Robust clan loyalty, locals, helped mafia boss Messina Denaro keep hidden By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A screengrab taken from a video reveals Matteo Messina Denaro the nation’s most needed mafia boss being escorted out of a Carabinieri police station after he was arrested in Palermo, Italy, January 16, 2023. Carabinieri/Handout by way of REUTERS

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By Angelo Amante and Wladimir Pantaleone

PALERMO, Italy (Reuters) – When Salvatore Catalano found that mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro had lived only a brief stroll from his home within the western Sicilian city of Campobello di Mazara, he felt sick.

Catalano’s brother, Agostino, was a policeman who died in a 1992 bomb that killed anti-mob Justice of the Peace Paolo Borsellino – a assault that prosecutors say Messina Denaro helped mastermind.

“There’s anger in my coronary heart and soul now that I do know he was right here and I did not recognise him,” Catalano advised Reuters.

Messina Denaro, 60, was arrested on Jan. 16 after 30 years on the run. Police imagine he spent a lot of the final 12 months hiding in plain sight in Campobello di Mazara, a city of some 11,000 inhabitants, only a brief drive from his mom’s home.

“We have celebrated the arrest with my household. He is in jail and can now be topic to powerful detention guidelines,” Catalano stated.

The final confirmed sighting of Messina Denaro was in 1993, making it troublesome for police to determine essentially the most needed man in Italy. He lead an apparently open life within the city, looking for himself within the native grocery store, authorities stated.

Prosecutors say their hunt was additional sophisticated by the unusually sturdy loyalty he acquired from members of his clan within the west of Sicily.

Reuters interviewed dozens of residents on the streets of Campobello and from his close by hometown of Castelvetrano, in addition to prosecutors and police who helped observe him down.

They revealed the wrestle investigators confronted in attempting to interrupt by the mafia’s wall of “omerta”, or code of silence, that had shattered in different components of Sicily, however which nonetheless stood agency round Messina Denaro, dubbed by the Italian press as “the final Godfather”.

“I’ve arrested a minimum of 200 folks associated to him. Solely certainly one of them determined to collaborate with justice,” stated Roberto Piscitello, a prosecutor who tried to seize Messina Denaro from 1996 to 2008.

“Within the close by provinces of Palermo and Agrigento, 5 out of 10 of the arrested develop into turncoats,” he advised Reuters talking from his residence in Marsala, on the western tip of Sicily.

In the long run, it wasn’t Messina Denaro’s fellow mobsters who betrayed him, however his failing physique.

FALSE IDENTITY

Police say they managed to catch Messina Denaro after studying from wiretaps of his family that he had most cancers.

They’d lengthy suspected he was residing in his native Sicily, and a radical test of most cancers sufferers within the area revealed {that a} man named Andrea Bonafede had surgical procedure within the western metropolis of Mazara del Vallo on the similar time his cell phone had been energetic in one other a part of the island.

Investigators took that because the “first important affirmation” that Messina Denaro could possibly be hidden underneath that false id, judicial paperwork seen by Reuters confirmed, as a result of it advised the person having the operation was not the actual Andrea Bonafede, who was presumed to be along with his telephone.

They homed in on the affected person and realized he was as a consequence of obtain routine chemotherapy remedy within the island’s capital Palermo on Jan. 16.

Police surrounded the clinic and pounced after the affected person arrived for his appointment. He instantly acknowledged his true id however appeared to sprint any hopes that he would spill the beans on his lifetime of crime.

“I’ve my code of honour,” a regulation enforcement supply quoted him as telling magistrates once they first met him, referring to the Sicilian Mafia’s rule, a lot degraded over the previous 30 years, of not talking concerning the organisation to anybody exterior.

His silence means investigators should attempt to piece collectively as finest as they’ll how he managed to keep away from detection by the years.

The preliminary focus of their probe was on the actual Andrea Bonafede, a educated surveyor who had no legal report.

Bonafede has confirmed realizing Messina Denaro since their youth and has acknowledged shopping for the mobster a flat in Campobello di Mazara, prosecutors stated. He himself is underneath arrest and has not commented publicly concerning the case.

Police are additionally investigating his driver, Giovanni Luppino, an olive farmer who additionally had no police report. He was carrying a switchblade and had turned off his two cell phones, in what magistrates say was an try to forestall being traced.

He has denied realizing the true id of his passenger.

Palermo Chief Prosecutor Maurizio de Lucia advised Reuters that males akin to Bonafede represented the “first hyperlink” of the fugitive’s matrix – those that supplied for his fundamental wants.

However he believes his assist community had deep roots.

“His territory helped him for a few years. It’s affordable to assume he acquired safety from professionals, entrepreneurs,” he stated.

Amongst these already underneath investigation for allegedly aiding and abetting the boss is his physician, Alfonso Tumbarello. His lawyer stated he was assured his consumer may show his innocence.

BUSINESS CONTACTS

Magistrates stated they discovered proof that Messina Denaro had visited Spain, Greece and Austria through the years. However the primary focus of his enterprise actions remained in western Sicily, which means he most likely spent a lot of his time on the island.

Dozens of lower-level mafiosi had been arrested within the area by the years – a scaling down of Messina Denaro’s interior circle that magistrates stated repeatedly interrupted promising leads that that they had hoped would in the future take them to the boss.

“(However) we couldn’t sacrifice justice. We couldn’t go away mobsters on the streets,” Prosecutor Paolo Guido, who led the lengthy hunt to the boss within the final years, advised Reuters.

Prosecutors stated the mob chief constructed a big selection of monetary pursuits that went far past conventional mafioso issues, serving to him arrange a loyal community of white collar professionals.

A secret 2013 recording made in jail revealed former boss of bosses, Salvatore “the Beast” Riina, had complained that his one-time protege was investing in renewable vitality tasks somewhat than specializing in hardcore Mafia actions.

“Within the Sicilian context, those that are believed to create jobs and the potential for doing enterprise get hold of consensus, safety,” stated Colonel Antonello Parasiliti Molica, who heads the Carabinieri particular forces anti-crime unit in Palermo.

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