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Matteo Messina, the most wanted criminal of the Sicilian mafia, is arrested

After 30 years of being a fugitive from Justice, the Italian authorities reported on Monday, January 16, that they had captured Matteo Messina Denaro, considered the top leader of Costa Nostra, the Sicilian mafia and the most wanted criminal in the country. With his capture, Rome completes a decade of major coups against the heads of the nation’s major criminal organizations.

Three decades of investigations culminate to find the whereabouts of the “last godfather” of the Sicilian mafia.

Matteo Messina Denaro, the most wanted capo in Italy, was captured by the authorities this Monday, January 16, in Palermo, capital of the island of Sicily, in the south of the country.

A fugitive from Justice for 30 years, when he was a young man, he was located by a group of officers while waiting to be treated as a patient over 60 years of age, in a private clinic.

Two members of the special operations squad of the Carabineros Police accompanied him down the steps at the entrance of the medical center, where according to inquiries he was attending for colon cancer, and led him to a black van, in the middle of a gray morning

He is the last of the three top leaders of the mafia, who had evaded capture for decades but was finally apprehended thanks to the work of hundreds of police officers and years of investigations.

“Messina Denaro was the last godfather, he represented all the secrets of Cosa Nostra. He is the end of a myth and the organization will have to face this, ”said Anna Sergi, an expert on organized crime at the University of Essex in England.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni called the capture a “great victory for the state, which shows that it does not give in to the mafia.”


This arrest deals a heavy blow to the mythology of Cosa Nostra. A criminal organization whose fame has been amplified by movies like ‘The Godfather’. Now, however, this group is described by experts as a criminal organization in crisis facing various difficulties, including competition in the highly lucrative and illicit business of drug trafficking.

Although Cosa Nostra retains control of its Sicilian territory and the ability to infiltrate the broader economy, it has been supplanted in the drug trade by movements like the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta.

Following her arrest, it is unclear who would step in to replace Messina Denaro in what is now a more factionalized mafia.

“If Cosa Nostra wants to rebuild the leadership it had in the past, it needs directives, but there are no big bosses anymore,” Sergi explained, adding that the group is expected to try to rebuild connections with criminal clans in the United States.

The accusations against Messina

Messina Denaro, who was tried in absentia and convicted of dozens of murders, faces multiple life sentences.

He is scheduled to be jailed for two bombings in Sicily in 1992 that killed top anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, Falcone’s wife and several of his bodyguards.

The man is accused of being one of the masterminds of that Cosa Nostra bombing strategy, which sparked national outrage and forced politicians to act, introducing waves of anti-mafia laws and making hundreds of arrests.

With the crackdown on Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, the island’s mobsters began to lose their hold in Italy compared to other organized crime clans.

“That ‘declaration of war’ against the state certainly meant a weakening of the organization that other groups, such as the ‘Ndrangheta, were promoting,” said Federico Cafiero De Raho, a former national anti-mafia prosecutor and opposition deputy in the 5-star Movement.

This video grab taken and released by the Italian Carabinieri Police press office, on January 16, 2023, showing the arrest of Italy's most wanted mafia boss, Matteo Messina Denaro, in Palermo, at his Native Sicily, after 30 years on the run.
This video grab taken and released by the Italian Carabinieri Police press office, on January 16, 2023, showing the arrest of Italy’s most wanted mafia boss, Matteo Messina Denaro, in Palermo, at his Native Sicily, after 30 years on the run. © Italian Carabinieri Police/Via AFP

Among other grisly crimes, Messina was also indicted for the murder of the young son of a mob “traitor,” kidnapped and strangled before his body was dissolved in a vat of acid, authorities say.

In addition, any revelations the now-detainee can deliver about the group’s activities, including the 1993 bombings in Florence, Rome and Milan that killed 10 people, could be a major breakthrough.

“According to what is known, he played a role in the attacks and more events are possible,” said Gian Carlo Caselli, who served as chief prosecutor in Palermo.

30-year search for the three big bosses of the Sicilian mafia ends

The fact that the three main bosses were finally arrested in the heart of Sicily while they had been living clandestinely for decades is the closure of decades of work by the country’s police and prosecutors.

Videos broadcast on social networks showed dozens of citizens applauding the officers for the operation.

Messina’s arrest comes 30 years and one day after police apprehended Salvatore ‘Toto’ Riina, Cosa Nostra’s most important figure of the 20th century, and marks the latest step in efforts to dismantle the historic leadership of the group clan.

Messina Denaro went underground in the summer of that same year, when the Italian state tightened its repression against the Sicilian crime syndicate after the murders of Falcone and Borsellino.

Law enforcement has long said these bosses rely on the contacts and confidentiality of their fellow mobsters and complicit family members to move fugitives from one hideout to another, meet basic needs like food and clean clothing. and communication, and a code of silence known as “omerta”, movements that they followed up on.

The Italian mob boss who set the record for longest time on the run was Bernardo Provenzano, captured on a farm near Corleone, Sicily, in 2006 after 38 years on the run.

Once Provenzano was in the hands of the Police, the authorities’ hunt focused on Messina Denaro, but despite numerous sightings of the capo, he had managed to evade arrest, an operation that finally concluded on Monday.

With Reuters, AP and EFE



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