1. Home
  2. International

Sicilian Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro arrested after eluding capture for 3 decades

Top Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, center, is seen  with Italian Carabinieri officers soon after his arrest at a private clinic in Palermo, Sicily, after 30 years on the run.

Top Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, center, is seen with Italian Carabinieri officers soon after his arrest at a private clinic in Palermo, Sicily, after 30 years on the run.

Photo: via reuters / CARABINIERI

RCI

Matteo Messina Denaro wanted for killings of Italian prosecutors, among other crimes

Convicted Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro was arrested on Monday at a private clinic in Palermo, Sicily, after three decades on the run, Italian paramilitary police said.

Messina Denaro was captured at the clinic where he was receiving treatment for an undisclosed medical condition, said Carabinieri Gen. Pasquale Angelosanto, who heads the police force's special operations squad.

In a police photo showing him sitting in a police van, Messina Denaro was wearing a brown leather jacket and white skull cap and his trademark tinted glasses. His face looked wan. He was taken to a secret location by police immediately after the arrest, Italian state television reported.

A young man when he went into hiding, he is now 60. Messina Denaro, who had a power base in the port city of Trapani, in western Sicily, was considered Sicily's Cosa Nostra top boss even while a fugitive.

He was the last of three longtime fugitive top-level Mafia bosses who had for decades eluded capture.

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

Messina Denaro, left, is shown as a younger man in an undated photo, alongside a computer-generated and aged image of the long-sought fugitive.

Messina Denaro, left, is shown as a younger man in an undated photo, alongside a computer-generated and aged image of the long-sought fugitive.

Photo: Associated Press / Police italienne

He is set to be imprisoned for are two bombings in Sicily in 1992 that killed top anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. Among other grisly crimes he was convicted of is the murder of a Mafia turncoat's young son, Giuseppe Di Matteo, who was strangled and his body dissolved in a vat of acid.

He also faces a life sentence for his role in bomb attacks in Florence, Rome and Milan that killed 10 people in 1993.

Previous sightings

The arrest Monday came 30 years and a day after the Jan. 15, 1993, capture of convicted boss of bosses Salvatore (Toto) Riina in a Palermo apartment after 23 years on the run. Messina Denaro went into hiding in the summer of that year, as the Italian state waged a crackdown on the Sicilian crime syndicate following the murders of Falcone and Borsellino.

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni tweeted that Messina Denaro's capture is a great victory of the state, which shows that it doesn't surrender in the face of the Mafia.

Italy's Mafia boss who set the record for the longest time on the lam was Bernardo Provenzano, captured in a farmhouse near Corleone, Sicily, in 2006 after 38 years as a fugitive. Once Provenzano was in police hands, the hunt focused on Messina Denaro, but despite numerous reported sightings of the boss, he managed to elude arrest, until Monday.

That all three top bosses were ultimately arrested in the heart of Sicily while they conducted decades of a clandestine life won't surprise Italy's police and prosecutors. Law enforcement have long said that such bosses rely on the contacts and confidentiality of fellow mobsters and complicit family members to move the fugitives from hideout to hideout, supply basic needs, like food and clean clothing and communication, and a code of silence known as omerta.

Riina and Provenzano lived out the last years of their life in the strictest of Italian prison conditions reserved for unrepentant organized crime bosses and refused to co-operate with investigators.

Wary of being tracked down by cellphone use, Mafia bosses frequently resort to handwritten notes known as pizzini. When Provenzano was nabbed in his rustic, almost primitive hideaway in the countryside, police found a stash of such notes.

With the crackdown that began in the 1990s against Sicily's Cosa Nostra, the island's Mafiosi started losing their dominance in Italy compared to other organized crime syndicates.

While the Sicilian Mafia was significantly weakened by a small army of turncoats, on the mainland, the 'Ndrangheta syndicate, based in the toe of the Italian peninsula, steadily eclipsed Cosa Nostra in reach and influence.

But the Sicilian Mafia still runs drug trafficking operations. Other lucrative illicit businesses include infiltration of public works contracts and extortion of small business owners who are threatened if they don't regularly pay protection money.

The Associated Press

Headlines