After spending three decades on the run, Italy’s most wanted man, Matteo Messina Denaro, a convicted Mafia leader who oversaw some of the country’s most brutal murders, was captured on Monday at a private clinic in Sicily, according to Italian paramilitary police.
According to Carabinieri Gen. Pasquale Angelosanto, commander of the police force’s special operations unit, Messina Denaro was apprehended at the Palermo facility where he was receiving treatment for an unidentified medical issue.
In the pouring rain, two Carabinieri cops guided him down the front steps of the fancy clinic and then took him to a waiting black van. Each officer was holding one arm. Messina Denaro was dressed in his signature tinted glasses, a white and brown skull cap, and a brown leather jacket with shearling trim. He had a wan appearance and was looking directly ahead.
He was a young man when he fled, and he is now 60. Even though he was on the run, Messina Denaro was regarded as the senior Cosa Nostra official in Sicily. He maintained a power base close by in the western Sicilian port city of Trapani.
He was the third long-running fugitive top-level Mafia boss who had evaded capture for years, and hundreds of police personnel had been charged with finding him throughout the years.
According to Italian press sources, the fugitive identified himself as Messina Denaro when Carabinieri approached him in the clinic and inquired about his identity.
According to Rai state television, the fugitive had been going by the alias Andrea Bonafede, according to Palermo Chief Prosecutor Maurizio De Lucia. The Italian meaning of the last name is basically “excellent faith.”
Messina Denaro showed up in court in Palermo shortly after being detained, when the judge sought to establish his identity and asked simple questions to complete paperwork.
The judge reminded Messina Denaro that he had to be genuine in his response, and he said, “Aware.” When asked what he did, he said “farmer,” adding that his brother worked in finance and his four sisters were housewives.
He listed Castelvetrano, a farm hamlet close to Trapani, as his domicile since it served as the power center for his criminal organization and provided him with logistical support while he was on the run, according to authorities.
In addition, he disclosed to the court that he was one of six children, one of whom worked in finance.
Messina Denaro thanked the unnamed judge and wished him a good day as the brief hearing came to a close.
Multiple life sentences are expected for Messina Denaro, who was found guilty of numerous murders after being prosecuted in absentia.
He will likely go to prison for the 1992 bombs in Sicily that murdered prominent anti-Mafia prosecutors Paolo Borsellino and Giovanni Falcone, along with Falcone’s wife and several of their bodyguards. He was also found guilty of the gruesome murder of a Mafia turncoat’s young son, who was kidnapped, murdered, and then his body was destroyed in an acid bath.
Salvatore “Toto” Riina, the convicted Mafia “boss of bosses,” was apprehended on January 15, 1993, in a Palermo apartment after spending 23 years on the run. This arrest happened 30 years and a day later. In the summer of the same year, Messina Denaro went into hiding as the Italian government intensified its crackdown on the Sicilian organized crime group in response to the murders of Falcone and Borsellino.
The arrest of Messina Denaro, according to Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, is a “huge success of the state, which demonstrates that it doesn’t capitulate in the face of the Mafia.”
Bernardo Provenzano, the Mafia boss in Italy who established the record for the longest period on the run, was apprehended in a farmhouse close to Corleone, Sicily, in 2006 after 38 years on the run. When Provenzano was in the custody of the police, attention turned to Messina Denaro, but despite multiple reports of sightings, he evaded capture until Monday.
It won’t come as a surprise to the police and prosecutors in Italy that all three senior executives were ultimately apprehended in the middle of Sicily while leading decades-long covert lives. Authorities have long claimed that these bosses migrate from hiding place to hiding place using contacts, the trust of other mobsters, and complicit family members, as well as the “omerta” rule of silence and the provision of food, clean clothing, and communication.
Investigators say that Messina Denaro traveled outside of Sicily while on the run, including to Marseille, a port city in France, where he received surgery a number of years ago.
Riina and Provenzano refused to cooperate with authorities and spent their final years in the harshest Italian prisons available to recalcitrant organized crime bosses.
Messina Denaro was thought to have lived a more comfortable life during the years he spent evading the law, leading some to wonder if he may collaborate with prosecutors in exchange for less stringent prison terms.
According to accounts in the Italian media, he had a string of relationships while hiding out and enjoyed playing video games.
His girlfriend who had temporarily sheltered him while he was on the run was apprehended and found guilty. However, despite his weakness for women, Messina Denaro was also capable of cruelty; according to Italian media, he once strangled a pregnant lady.
Messina Denaro wrote a letter to his then-girlfriend shortly after going into hiding in which he said, “You’ll hear gossip about me, they’ll depict me like the devil, but it’s all falsehoods,” according to ANSA.
Mafia bosses frequently utilize handwritten notes known as “pizzini” because they are concerned about being found using cellphones. Police discovered a cache of these notes when they arrested Provenzano in his modest, almost primitive, hideout in the countryside.
The Cosa Nostra of Sicily was the target of a crackdown that started in the 1990s, and as a result, the mafiosi from the island began to lose ground to other organized crime groups in Italy.
The ‘ndrangheta syndicate, situated in the “toe” of the Italian peninsula, steadily surpassed Cosa Nostra in reach and power while the Sicilian Mafia was seriously undermined by a small army of turncoats. The ‘ndrangheta is less susceptible to traitors since it recruits its foot soldiers based on familial ties rather than the criminal organizations of Sicily. One of the most potent cocaine traffickers in the world right now is the ‘ndrangheta.
However, the Sicilian Mafia continues to operate drug distribution networks. Infiltration of public works contracts and extortion of small business owners who are threatened if they don’t routinely pay “protection money” are two other lucrative illegal enterprises.
It has been clarified in this article that Messina Denaro is actually one of six children, not the father of six.