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Mafia informant’s brother shot dead on Christmas Day

The brother of a Calabrian mafia informant was gunned down by two assailants on Christmas Day in a brutal execution that has raised questions over the Italian police's ability to protect the families of ex-gang members.

Mafia informant's brother shot dead on Christmas Day
The normally quiet town of Pesaro in the Marche region, where the man was shot. Photo: Peter Leth/Flickr

The brother of a Calabrian mafia informant was gunned down by two assailants on Christmas Day in a brutal execution that has raised questions over the Italian police's ability to protect the families of ex-gang members.

Marcello Bruzzese, 51, was shot multiple times by two men with their faces hidden on Tuesday in the normally tranquil historic centre of the eastern port city of Pesaro, where he lived quietly at the expense of the state. 

The killers waited for him near the building where he had lived for three years with his wife and two children. They shot him while he was still inside his car then escaped on foot.

READ ALSO: The Italian mafia is expanding abroad, and European police forces aren’t prepared

According to police and judicial sources, the victim was under state witness protection because his brother Girolamo Bruzzese, known as “Mommo”, was a former member of the feared 'Ndrangheta — the Calabrian mafia — who had collaborated with Italian authorities.

“Mommo” Bruzzese gave himself up to police in 2003 after he shot the powerful Calabrian mafia boss Teodoro Crea, who he had worked closely with, according to the newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano.

He then went to the Italian authorities, telling them the clan's secrets including its links with local politicians and businessmen, which had led to arrests. 

Crea, the head of one of the most bloodthirsty clans in the Calabrian port town of Gioia Tauro, recovered from his wounds. 

The Bruzzese family is no stranger to the mob. The brothers' father was a senior mafia figure and Crea's former right hand man until he was killed in an ambush.    

Marcello Bruzzese was a young man at the time and was seriously injured in the attack, which also killed his brother-in-law. 

The Christmas Day shooting whipped up criticism of the government’s priorities; especially those of Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who they accused of being preoccupied with social media.

Matteo Salvini (L) and President of the Latium region, Nicola Zingaretti (R) watch the demolition of villas illegally built by the Casamonica mafia clan in of Rome last month. Photo: Filippo MONTEFORTE/AFP

“While the interior minister posted a photo of his meals, a mafia ambush was taking place in Pesaro,” said Pietro Grasso, a senator and respected former anti-mafia magistrate. 

“This is a very serious issue,” he added. “The state dedicates fewer and fewer resources to protection programmes.”  

Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister, is due to visit Pesaro on Thursday for a security meeting.  

The interior minister stirred controversy this year by threatening to lift police protection for the anti-mafia writer Roberto Saviano — one of his most virulent critics — who has lived under armed guard since publishing his mafia best-seller “Gomorrah” in 2006.

Libera, the country's main anti-mafia association, called for an “immediate and firm” response from the government on Bruzzese's killing.

“The fight against the mafias and corruption cannot suffer from grey areas,” it said, adding that informants were crucial to “weaken” the mafia system. 

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CRIME

New York returns 214 stolen artworks to Italy in seven months

Authorities in New York announced on Thursday the return to Italy of 14 more antiquities, worth an estimated €2.3 million, as part of an investigation into smuggling of stolen artifacts.

New York returns 214 stolen artworks to Italy in seven months

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has been conducting an extensive investigation over the past two years into looted antiquities that have ended up in New York museums and galleries — including the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art.

During a ceremony on Thursday with the Italian consul general and Italian police representatives, 14 more artifacts – some 2,600 years old – were officially returned to Italy, bringing the total number of repatriated pieces to that country over the past seven months to 214, District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office said.

READ ALSO: Italian ‘art squad’ police recover 800 illegally-excavated archaeological finds

More than 700 pieces worth more than $100 million have been returned in the past year to 17 countries, including Italy as well as Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, and Greece, the statement added.

New York, a hub of stolen antiquities trafficking for decades, set up a task force in 2017 to investigate the illicit trade.

According to the statement by District Attorney Bragg, who took office in January 2022, Thursday’s repatriation included the silver “Sicily Naxos Coin,” minted around 430 BCE and currently valued at half a million dollars.

Other notable items included ancient pottery dating to 510 BCE, and amarble head of Roman Emperor Hadrian, dating to 200 CE.

Among the culprits behind the 14 returned pieces, the statement said, were well-known art traffickers Giacomo Medici and Giovanni Franco Becchina, as well as Robert Hecht, the Paris-based American art dealer who died in 2012.

The traffickers had “relied on gangs of tombaroli (tomb raiders) to loot carefully chosen and insufficiently guarded archaeological sites throughout the Mediterranean,” it added.

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