Italy mafia boss Bernardo ‘the tractor’ Provenzano dies

Sicilian "Cosa Nostra" mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano, dubbed "the tractor" for the way he mowed his victims down, died on Wednesday after a long illness.

Italy mafia boss Bernardo 'the tractor' Provenzano dies
Sicilian "Cosa Nostra" mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano died on Wednesday. Photo: HO/Questura Di Palermo/AFP

Provenzano, 83, was the Cosa Nostra crime group's “boss of bosses” until his arrest in 2006 after 40 years on the run, during which he communicated
with his lieutenants by word of mouth or typewritten notes.
He died at the San Paolo hospital in Milan in northern Italy, where he was being treated for bladder cancer, his lawyer Rosalba Di Gregorio said.
Born in the village of Corleone, whose name of which became associated withthe Sicilian mafia thanks to the “Godfather” novels and films, he reportedly
committed his first murder aged 25, when he killed a rival boss.
He became second-in-command to mafia leader “Toto” Riina, who presided overa series of gangland wars and killings of top judges that were a hallmark of
Italian life in the 1980s.
Provenzano became the uncontested head of Cosa Nostra after Riina wasclapped in cuffs in 1993 – an arrest one supergrass said Provenzano had had a
hand in.
The police sting, which came a year after bomb attacks killed anti-Mafiajudges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, was considered a major victory
in the struggle against the organised crime group.
Provenzano is said to have struck a deal with the authorities, persuadingthem that he was the only one who could forge a new strategy for Cosa Nostra
and stop the attacks.
The violence did largely abate, with the new boss ushering in an era inwhich the group focused on infiltrating the police force.

€2.5 million bounty 

Provenzano later gained a second nickname, “the accountant”, because of his mastery of his crime empire's finances.
However, one predecessor, Luciano Leggio – dubbed “the professor” for hishabit of correcting his henchmen's grammatical mistakes – said that while
Provenzano fired weapons “like a God”, he had “the brain of a chicken”.
During the mid 1990s, when he was being actively sought by the authorities, the price on Provenzano's head was said to be some three billion lira, or
around €1.5 million.
By 2003 the bounty had risen to €2.5 million, but he still remainedelusive.
In the absence of photos of Provenzano – the most recent one reportedly dated from 1959 — police were reduced to making computer enhancements of old
pictures, to try and guess what he now looked like.
Police got a lucky break in 2002 when they received a tip-off that he had undergone an operation for prostate cancer in Marseille, leaving behind a copy
of an identity card which bore a false name but real photograph.
Top of Italy's most-wanted list for decades, Provenzano was finallyarrested in a farmhouse in his fiefdom in Corleone near Palermo.
Sentenced to several consecutive life sentences, he was transferred in 2014to hospital in Milan suffering from neurological problems. Italy's supreme
court rejected a plea from his lawyers to release him on the grounds of illhealth.
Several trials he was a defendant in were suspended as his mental health deteriorated.
Provenzano had reportedly attempted suicide in prison in 2012 but was stopped when guards found him with a bag over his head.
Mafia bosses captured in Italy are imprisoned in particularly severeconditions under a law known as “41 bis”, which greatly restricts their
contact with other inmates and non-prisoners in an attempt to stop them continuing to orchestrate crime from the inside.
Inmates can only speak to visitors via intercom from behind a thick glass wall – or swap their one-hour monthly visit for one 10-minute telephone call.
“Provanzano's death does not mean the death of Cosa Nostra,” journalist and mafia expert Rino Giacalone told La Stampa daily.

“Cosa Nostra in the meantime has transformed, it has placed itself in the hands of his successor, a fugitive, Matteo Messina Denaro,” reportedly a murderous, fast-living mobster, a “playboy” big on extortion, money laundering and women.

Former anti-mafia prosecutor Antonio Ingroia said “too many mysteries will never end in truth and justice with Provenzano's death. He takes them to his
tomb, leaving behind a long streak of blood”.

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‘We mustn’t bow to violence’: Italy’s Covid-hit businesses battle to resist mafia

Mafia hunters warns that the pressure on Italian businesses will only increase as the economic fall-out from Covid-19 and a national lockdown bites.

'We mustn't bow to violence': Italy's Covid-hit businesses battle to resist mafia
Italian businesses are more vulnerable than ever to mafia infiltration amid the Covid-19 emergency. File photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Italian entrepreneur Gabriele Menotti Lippolis can still hear the threat ringing in his ears: “Pay up, or we'll slit you from gullet to gizzard.”

He has had to fight off extortion attempts not once, but twice. Speaking about it openly is “not easy”, he told AFP, but increasingly urgent, as the mafia feasts on companies weakened by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I was approached and told to cough up a certain sum,” said Lippolis, who runs an events company, as well as owning restaurants and one of the biggest beach clubs in the southern region of Puglia.

“I didn't say no immediately,” he said about the 2017 incident. “I went to the police station half an hour later to file a complaint.

“They were very difficult moments. I thought of my family, of my colleagues…. The threats were clear,” he added.


Italy has a long history of extortion by its mafias, from the Cosa Nostra in Sicily to the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria and the Camorra in Campania, with rackets run from the country's southern beaches to its bustling northern cities.

Lippolis, 43, insists that the only thing to do in such situations is to report it. His aggressor was arrested.

“We mustn't bow to violence or threats, but make people understand that the state is the strongest. Only together will we beat the mafias,” he said.

He is not the only one rebelling: a revolt by shopkeepers in Palermo in Sicily against demands for “pizzo” protection money lead to 20 arrests last week.

But mafia hunters warn that the pressure on businesses will only increase as the economic fall-out from the virus — and nationwide lockdown — is fully felt.

“The lockdown has left many companies in difficulty and brought some to their knees,” said Enzo Ciconte, the author of numerous books on Italian organised crime.

“The mafia try to take advantage of that to infiltrate [businesses]. One of their strategies is to lend money; when it is not returned, they take over the companies,” he said.

Often the rates offered to business owners on the verge of bankruptcy — who are unable to get the necessary bank loans — are exorbitant, sometimes topping 500 percent. The pressure to repay gradually increases, with phone calls or visits.

Once the business owner is cornered, “the mafia may leave him or her in place, but the profits go into their pockets. It's a good technique because it makes police investigations more complicated,” Ciconte said.


Cosa Nostra may be Italy's most famous mafia, thanks to films like The Godfather series, but its efforts to infiltrate the rich, industrial north pale into comparison with its fellow organised crime groups.

The influence of the Sicilian mob waned following a fierce crackdown by the authorities after the 1992 bombings that killed top anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, Ciconte said.

Conversely, the wealthy 'Ndrangheta is all powerful in Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and Piedmont, having settled there in the 1950s. It also has a large presence in Veneto and Lazio, along with the Camorra, he added.

Infiltrating a company can be an easy way to launder huge amounts of dirty money from drugs or prostitution.

But it can also prove a cash cow. Experts have warned the mob will be quick to not only infiltrate but also create new companies to benefit from the billions of euros soon to be available under the EU recovery plan.

“The history of organised crime has taught us that whenever there are large flows of money, there is a risk of infiltration,” Marco Valentini, who is Naples' prefect or security chief, told AFP.

“We are certain that there will be attempts, and we are implementing all preventive measures to ward them off.”

Police in Ostia, a hub for the Rome mafia. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Valentini said fraud investigators look closely at who is on company boards — and how that make-up may change — as well as whether there are ties to known crime families or suspicious transfers of holdings or headquarters.

Like his counterparts across the country, this year he is making extensive use of “anti-mafia bans”, administrative measures that blacklist companies from bidding for public contracts.

Italian prefects have issued more than 1,600 such bans since the start of the year, the interior ministry said, some 25 percent compared to 2019, according to the Repubblica daily.

Two southern regions — Campania and Calabria — account for half of them, but the north is also affected, with over 200 slapped on businesses in Emilia-Romagna.

“The most affected sectors are the catering industry — restaurants, pizzerias, bars — and construction and the health sectors,” Valentini said.

Anyone being approached by someone suspicious “must have the courage to report them”, he urged.


Lippolis, who is also head of the Confindustria organisation for young entrepreneurs in Puglia, knows from personal experience how hard it is to find that courage.

“Historically, business owners have been proud creatures, with difficulty confiding in people when problems arise. But that's changing,” he said.

Southern Italy may sometimes have a bad reputation, but he refuses to see it as a “no-man's land” where the mob has free rein, insisting instead that it has “enormous potential” for investments in the region.

Italy may have entrepreneurs ready to speak out and world-class mob hunters on high alert for the risks of increased mafia activity due to the pandemic — but do others?

“I am very concerned that other European countries underestimate the risks, and have not put in place preventive measures,” Ciconte said.

“If an Italian company infiltrated by the mafia moves to work in France or Germany, it's the Italian mafia that emerges stronger.”

By AFP's Céline Cornu