Italy: boss Messina Denaro arrested, “but Mafia is not defeated”

PALERMO – Thirty years ago, the Carabinieri led by Captain Ultimo intercepted and captured Toto Riina, “the boss of bosses”. It was January 15, 1993. Today, exactly three decades and one day later, the soldiers of the Arma arrested Matteo Messina Denaro (in the pic above, by Arma dei Carabinieri), a fugitive since 1993, when an arrest warrant was issued against him. 

A record fugitive: thirty years spent under cover until this morning’s blitz, when the Carabinieri del Ros (a special operations group) showed up in a private clinic in Palermo (Sicily), “La Maddalena”, where the boss – with the false identity of Andrea Bonafede – had gone to carry out some therapies to cure a cancer diagnosed a couple of years earlier. Messina Denaro mentioned an escape attempt, but the structure was literally surrounded by the police.

Matteo Messina Denaro’s false document, published by Adnkronos

Blocked, he surrendered to the evidence. “I’m Matteo Messina Denaro. I said it, I’m Matteo Messina Denaro” he replied to the soldiers who identified him. Well dressed, with a white wool cap, dark glasses, a brown jacket with white fur and with a 35 thousand euro watch on his wrist, the boss was escorted out of the private clinic, to the applause of the people and pats on the back of the Carabinieri (“Well done, it was time!”) and then taken to the “San Lorenzo” barracks and from there transferred to the Boccadifalco Airport to be taken to a maximum security prison. Hard prison has already been proposed for him: 41-bis. His “curriculum”, moreover, is dreadful.

Born on 23 October 1963, son of the mafia boss of Castelvetrano (Trapani) Francesco Messina Denaro, Matteo allied himself with the Corleonesi clan as early as the mafia war of the early 1980s. In 1992 he was part of the fire group chosen to kill Giovanni Falcone and the minister Claudio Martelli, using Kalashnikovs, rifles and revolvers, which he had procured. The stop to the attack in Rome is given by Totò Riina, who decides that the magistrate must be killed in Palermo. And so it happens: Messina Denaro himself will then be sentenced, on the run, for the 1992 massacres of Capaci that cost the lives of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

Not only that: the former super-fugitive was also sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder – among many others – of little Giuseppe Di Matteo, kidnapped to force his father Santino to retract his revelations about the Capaci massacre, strangled and then dissolved in acid.

‘U siccu’ and ‘Diabolik’ – these are his nicknames – also played an important role in the 1993 massacres in Florence, Milan and Rome. In the summer of that year he loses track of himself: the last time he is seen is on holiday in Forte dei Marmi, an Italian touristic place for very rich people, with his brothers Filippo and Giuseppe Graviano. Then, an arrest warrant is issued against him for mafia association, murder, massacre, devastation, possession and port of explosive material, theft and various other crimes. And since then, Messina Denaro has become untraceable.

Matteo Messina Denaro after his arrest (photo by Arma dei Carabinieri)

But how did the investigators get to him today? No confidants, no repentants – at least according to what was reported by the Carabinieri in the press conference followed today by over one hundred journalists – but a traditional investigation.

For at least three months, the investigators had been analyzing the intercepted conversations of his family members, from which it emerged that the godfather of Castelvetrano was seriously ill, so much so that he underwent two surgeries: one for liver cancer, the other for Crohn’s disease . The magistrates and the carabinieri have investigated the information of the national central office of the Ministry of Health which keeps data on cancer patients. By comparing the information captured with that discovered, the investigators arrived at a certain number of patients. The list was reduced on the basis of age, gender and origin which, the prosecutors knew, the wanted patient should have had. In the end, among the suspicious names was that of Andrea Bonafede, nephew of a loyal boss of the boss, residing in Campobello di Mazara. However, the investigations revealed that on the day of the intervention, discovered thanks to wiretaps, the “real” Bonafede was elsewhere. So his name had been used by another patient. The investigations then confirmed that this morning Messina Denaro, alias “Bonafede”, should have undergone chemotherapy. Certain that they are very close to the mafia boss, the Carabinieri went to the private clinic. And he, in fact, was there.

“We have captured the last mass murderer responsible for the massacres of 1992-93”, said the chief prosecutor of Palermo, Maurizio de Lucia after his arrest, who then, however, added: “But the mafia has not yet been defeated”.

Matteo Messina Money taken away by Carabinieri (photo by Arma dei Carabinieri)