Fugitive mafia Godfather protected 'at high level'

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An identikit image of Matteo Messina Denaro, designed by the police in 2006. Photo: Polizia di Stato/Wikicommons
08:11 CEST+02:00
An Italian prosecutor who has been hunting the fugitive head of the Sicilian mafia for the past 10 years says he has eluded capture because he is "protected at a very high level".

Matteo Messina Denaro, who has been on the run since 1993, "leaves Sicily" often and with apparent ease, Teresa Principato told Il Fatto Quotidiano daily in an interview published Tuesday, a day after 11 of his henchmen were arrested by Italian police.

"We have confirmation of his presence in Brasil, Spain, Britain, Austria. He travels for extremely high-level business, and his return to Sicily is irregular and increasingly infrequent," she said.

The Palermo prosecutor said the fact he was still at large "means he benefits from protection at a very high level", but would not elaborate on whether he was helped by the Mafia, politicians or institutions, as "very
confidential investigations are currently underway".

Denaro - once a trigger man who reportedly boasted he could "fill a cemetery" with his victims - had been communicating with his men via the age-old method of "pizzini", bits of paper containing messages, left under a rock at a farm in Sicily.

At the height of his power he had a reputation as a flashy, ruthless womaniser who ruled over at least 900 men with an iron fist.

The police sting which on Monday landed both mobsters and those ferrying the messages behind bars was cheered by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, but Principato said Denaro's interests by now were largely beyond the Sicilian coastline.

"The billionaire deals are done outside of Sicily. Here there's the economic crisis... there's no money anymore."

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However, a glimmer of hope for catching the successor to godfathers Toto Riina and Bernardo Provenzano comes precisely from the crisis.

"Let's not forget there's a bounty on his head, which in hard times can tempt a lot of people," Principato said.

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