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

By Angelo Amante and Wladimir Pantaleone

PALERMO, Italy (Reuters) – When Salvatore Catalano found that mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro had lived only a quick 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 instructed Reuters.

Messina Denaro, 60, was arrested on Jan. 16 after 30 years on the run. Police consider he spent a lot of the final yr hiding in plain sight in Campobello di Mazara, a city of some 11,000 inhabitants, only a quick 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 tough for police to determine essentially the most needed man in Italy. He lead an apparently open life within the city, searching for himself within the native grocery store, authorities stated.

Prosecutors say their hunt was additional sophisticated by the unusually robust loyalty he obtained 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 elements of Sicily, however which nonetheless stood agency round Messina Denaro, dubbed by the Italian press as “the final Godfather”.

“I’ve arrested no less than 200 folks associated to him. Solely one among 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 turn out to be turncoats,” he instructed Reuters talking from his residence in Marsala, on the western tip of Sicily.

Ultimately, it wasn’t Messina Denaro’s fellow mobsters who betrayed him, however his failing physique.


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

That they had lengthy suspected he was residing in his native Sicily, and a radical verify 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 identical time his cell phone had been lively in one other a part of the island.

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

They homed in on the affected person and realized he was resulting from 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 legislation 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 in regards to the organisation to anybody outdoors.

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 true Andrea Bonafede, a educated surveyor who had no legal document.

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

Police are additionally investigating his driver, Giovanni Luppino, an olive farmer who additionally had no police document. 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 figuring out the true id of his passenger.

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

However he believes his assist community had deep roots.

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

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


Magistrates stated they discovered proof that Messina Denaro had visited Spain, Greece and Austria over time. 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 inside circle that magistrates stated repeatedly interrupted promising leads that they’d hoped would in the future take them to the boss.

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

Prosecutors stated the mob chief constructed a big selection of monetary pursuits that went far past conventional mafioso considerations, 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 power tasks relatively than specializing in hardcore Mafia actions.

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

(Writing by Angelo Amante; Modifying by Crispian Balmer and Ross Colvin)

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