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Italy arrests fugitive mafia boss after 30 years on the run

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ROME (AP) — Italy’s No. 1 fugitive, convicted mob boss Matteo Messina Denaro, was captured 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 General Pasquale Angelosanto, who heads the police’s special operations team.

A pair of carabinieri officers, each holding an arm, walked him up the steps of the upscale clinic and led him to a waiting black van on a gray morning. Messina Denaro wore a brown leather jacket trimmed with sheepskin and a matching white and brown skull cap and her signature tinted glasses. His face was pale and he was staring straight ahead. He was taken to a secret location by police immediately after his arrest, Italian state television reported.

A young man when he went into hiding, he is now 60 years old. Messina Denaro, who had a power base in the western Sicilian port city of Trapani, was considered the leader of the Cosa Nostra in Sicily, even while on the run.

He was the last of three longtime fugitive mob bosses who had eluded capture for decades, and hundreds of police officers over the years had been tasked with finding him.

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

He is expected to be imprisoned for two bombings in Sicily in 1992 that killed top anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, Falcone’s wife and several of their bodyguards. Among the other grisly crimes he was convicted of was the murder of the young son of a Mafia defector, who was abducted and strangled before his body was dissolved in a vat of acid.

A composite image showing a computer-generated image released by Italian police, right, and a photo of mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro.

Italian Police, LaPresse via Associated Press

Monday’s arrest came 30 years and a day after the January 15, 1993 capture of “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 stepped up its crackdown on the Sicilian crime syndicate following the murders of Falcone and Borsellino.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni tweeted that the capture of Messina Denaro is a “great victory for the state, which shows that it does not surrender to the mafia”.

The Italian mob boss who set the record for the longest time on the run was Bernardo Provenzano, captured from a farm 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 from the boss, he managed to evade arrest, until Monday.

That the three big bosses were finally arrested in the heart of Sicily while leading decades of a clandestine life will come as no surprise to Italian police and prosecutors. Law enforcement has long said that these bosses rely on the contacts and confidentiality of fellow gangsters and conniving family members to move fugitives from hideout to hideout, meet basic needs, like food , clean clothing and communication, and a code of silence known as “omerta”. ‘.”

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

Messina Denaro is believed to have enjoyed a more comfortable lifestyle during his decades of hiding from the police, leaving some to wonder if he might agree to cooperate with prosecutors in return for more lenient prison conditions.

During his years on the run, he had a string of lovers and passed the time by playing video games, according to Italian media.

One of his girlfriends was arrested and convicted for hiding him while he was on the run. But while he had a thing for women, Messina Denaro could get cruel, strangling a woman while she was pregnant, according to Italian media.

Just after going into hiding, Messina Denaro sent a letter to his then-girlfriend, saying, “You’ll hear about me, they’ll paint me as the devil, but it’s all lies,” he said. ‘ANSA quoting the letter.

Fearing being stalked by cell phone use, mob bosses frequently resort to handwritten notes called “pizzini”. When Provenzano was caught in his rustic, almost primitive, country retreat, police found a stash of these notes.

With the crackdown that began in the 1990s against the Cosa Nostra in Sicily, the island’s mafiosi began to lose their dominance in Italy to other organized crime syndicates.

While the Sicilian Mafia was greatly weakened by a small army of defectors, on the mainland the ‘ndrangheta syndicate, based at the “foot” of the Italian peninsula, regularly eclipsed the Cosa Nostra in reach and influence. Unlike the crime syndicates of Sicily, the ‘ndrangheta attracts its foot soldiers based on family ties, making it less vulnerable to defectors. The ‘ndrangheta is now one of the most powerful cocaine traffickers in the world.

But the Sicilian Mafia still carries out drug trafficking operations. Other lucrative illicit businesses include the infiltration of public works contracts and the extortion of small business owners who are threatened if they do not regularly pay “protection money”.

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