- The last father of the mafia enjoyed an extremely strong loyalty
- Omerta’s code of silence also helped the boss stay hidden
- The “father of the last father” Messina Denaro lived near his mother
PALERMO, Italy, Jan 25 (Reuters) – Salvatore Catalano felt sick when he learned that Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro was living a short distance from his home in the western Sicilian town of Campobello di Mazara.
Catalano’s brother Agostino was a policeman involved in the 1992 bombing that killed anti-mob prosecutor Paolo Borsellino — an attack that prosecutors say Messina Denaro helped mastermind.
“There’s anger in my heart and soul now because I know he was here and I didn’t recognize him,” Catalano told Reuters.
60-year-old Messina Denaro was arrested on January 16 after 30 years on the run. Police believe he spent the past year hiding in Campobello di Mazara, a town of about 11,000 people, just a short drive from his mother’s home.
“We celebrated the arrest with my family. He is in prison and now they will follow the strict rules of detention,” said Catalano.
The last confirmed sighting of Messina Denaro was in 1993, making it difficult for police to identify Italy’s most wanted man. Officials said he led an apparently open life in the city, shopping for himself at local supermarkets.
Prosecutors say their hunt has been made more difficult by the unusual loyalty he received from members of his tribe in western Sicily.
Reuters interviewed dozens of residents on the streets of Campobello and his neighboring hometown of Castelvetrano, as well as prosecutors and police who helped search for him.
They revealed the struggle of the investigators when they tried to break through the wall of the Mafia “omerta” or code of silence, which was broken in other parts of Sicily, but was still strong around Messina Denaro, which the Italian press referred to as “mafia”. the last father”.
Roberto Piscitello, the prosecutor who tried to arrest Messina Dena from 1996 to 2008, said: “I arrested at least 200 people related to him. Only one of them decided to cooperate with justice.”
“In the nearby provinces of Palermo and Agrigento, five out of 10 arrestees become traffickers,” he told Reuters from his home in Marsala, on the western edge of Sicily.
In the end, it was not Messina Dena’s comrades who betrayed him, but his failing body.
Police say they managed to arrest Messina Dena after overhearing her relatives talking about her cancer.
They had long suspected that he was living in his native Sicily, and a thorough check of cancer patients in the region revealed that a man named Andrea Bonafede had been operated on in the western town of Mazara del Vallo, while his cell phone was in another part of the island.
Investigators described it as the “first significant confirmation” that Messina Denaro could be hiding under the false identity, court documents seen by Reuters show, as it shows the man who performed the operation was not Andrea Bonafede. who was with him. phone
They admitted the patient and learned that he was to receive the usual chemotherapy treatment on January 16 in the island’s capital, Palermo.
Police surrounded the clinic and swooped after the patient arrived for his appointment. He immediately admitted his true identity, but seemed to dash all hopes of spilling the beans on his life of crime.
“I have my own code of honor,” a law enforcement source told the judges when they met with him, told by the Sicilian Mafia’s rule, which has declined greatly over the past 30 years, and not to speak about the organization to anyone outside.
His silence means investigators must try to piece together as much as possible how he managed to avoid detection for years.
The initial focus of their investigation was on the real Andrea Bonafede, an experienced researcher with no criminal record.
Prosecutors said Bonafede confirmed Messina had known Dena since they were young and admitted buying the mobster an apartment in Campobello di Mazara. He himself is under arrest and has not publicly commented on this case.
Police are also investigating his driver, Giovanni Luppino, an olive farmer with no police record. He was carrying a sword and had switched off two of his mobile phones in what prosecutors said was an attempt to avoid being tracked down.
He denied knowing the true identity of his passenger.
Palermo’s chief prosecutor, Mauricio de Lucia, told Reuters that men like Bonafede were the “first link” of the fugitive’s matrix – those who provided for his basic needs.
But he believes his support network has deep roots.
“His territory helped him for many years. It is right to think that he was supported by professionals and businessmen,” he said.
His doctor, Alfonso Tumbarello, is among those already being investigated for allegedly aiding the boss. His defense attorney said that he is sure that his client can prove his innocence.
The judges said they found evidence that Messina visited Dena over the years in Spain, Greece and Austria. But the main focus of his commercial activity remained in western Sicily, meaning he probably spent much of his time on the island.
Dozens of low-level mobsters have been arrested in the region over the years – a thin one from Messina’s inner circle, Denaro, which judges said repeatedly stopped promising bosses who they hoped would one day lead them to the boss.
“(But) we couldn’t sacrifice justice. We couldn’t put mobsters on the streets,” prosecutor Paolo Guido, who led the long manhunt for the boss in recent years, told Reuters.
Prosecutors said the mob boss had built up a series of financial interests that went beyond traditional mob concerns, helping him build a loyal network of white-collar operatives.
A secret 2013 prison tape revealed that former boss Salvatore “The Wild” Riina complained that a one-time bodyguard was investing in renewable energy projects rather than focusing on tough mafia activities.
Colonel Antonello Paraciliti Molica, head of the Carabinieri’s anti-crime division in Palermo, said: “In the Sicilian context, those who believe in the creation of jobs and the possibility of doing business gain consensus, protection.”
Written by Angelo Amante; Edited by Crispian Balmer and Ross Colvin
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