Hundreds of mafia members leave prison under Italy’s lockdown

The release of nearly 400 elderly or infirm mobsters from Italian prisons during the coronavirus emergency has sparked an outcry, forcing the justice ministry to backpedal.

Hundreds of mafia members leave prison under Italy's lockdown
Photo: AFP

The 376 mafiosi and drug dealers have been moved from overcrowded jails to house arrest since March and judges were examining release requests from 456 others, the La Repubblica newspaper said on Thursday.

Those allowed home include Cosa Nostra boss Francesco Bonura, 78, and Franco Cataldo, 85, who was part of a gang which murdered the teenage son of a turncoat in 1996 and dissolved his body in acid.


Officials had said inmates aged over 70 could leave jail if they suffered from health issues which made them vulnerable to Covid-19 – but judges were not instructed to differentiate between standard prisoners and mobsters.

The decision followed deadly riots in prisons across Italy in March lead by inmates fearful of catching the virus, which has since killed some 30,000 people in Italy.

The hundreds of mafia-linked criminals were put under house arrest, along with some 6,000 other convicts in Italy already serving their sentences at home after being handed a sentence of less than an 18 months.

A Carabinieri police officer stands guard outside the San Vittore prison in Milan during riots in March. Photo: AFP

Italy's anti-mafia prosecutor Federico Cafiero De Raho said on Thursday it was particularly odd to have let out those serving time under the country's harsh prison isolation regime, known as the 41-bis

The often-criticised regime isolates mobster bosses entirely to prevent them from running their clans from behind bars.

“If they are in isolation, it's obvious they cannot catch it, or be contagious,” he said.


De Raho said on Thursday that the release of these prisoners wasn't necessary.

“People got carried away by fears of contagion, when thermal scanners would have been enough,” he told Italian radio.

Critics also pointed out the virus has now been largely contained and Italy has now begun lifting its national lockdown.

Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede said he was drawing up a decree to allow judges to review the release decisions now the pandemic has eased, and each new request would go through anti-mafia judges as well.

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Italy remembers murdered anti-mafia judge Falcone

Italy commemorated the death of Italian judge Giovanni Falcone on Monday, thirty years after the brutal Capaci bombing.

Italy remembers murdered anti-mafia judge Falcone

The entire country paid tribute on Monday to anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone, killed by the Sicilian mafia 30 years ago in a car bomb murder that shocked the country.

Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese laid a wreath at the memorial at the site of the blast at Capaci, near Palermo, that killed Falcone, his wife, and three members of his police escort on May 23rd 1992.

Another ceremony in Palermo was attended by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, whose brother Piersanti, then Sicily’s regional president, was also murdered by the mafia.

In a statement, Prime Minister Mario Draghi hailed the legacy of Falcone, saying that thanks to his “courage, professionalism and determination, Italy has become a freer and fairer country”.

He said Falcone and his colleagues – one of whom, Paolo Borsellino, was killed by Cosa Nostra two months later – “dealt decisive blows against the mafia”.

“Their heroism had rooted anti-mafia values in society, in new generations, in republican institutions,” he added, saying the “relentless fight against organised crime and […] the search for truth” must continue.

The mob used a skateboard to place a 500-kilogramme (1100-pound) charge of TNT and ammonium nitrate in a tunnel under the motorway which linked the airport to the centre of Palermo.

Falcone, driving a white Fiat Croma, was returning from Rome for the weekend. At a look-out point on the hill above, a mobster nicknamed “The Pig” pressed the remote control button as the judge’s three-car convoy passed.

The blast ripped through the asphalt, shredding bodies and metal, and flinging the lead car several hundred metres.

READ ALSO: How murdered judge Giovanni Falcone shaped Italy’s fight against the mafia

On July 19th, Borsellino was also killed in a car bomb attack, along with five members of his escort. Only his driver survived.

Falcone posed a real threat to Cosa Nostra, an organised crime group made famous by The Godfather trilogy, and which boasted access to the highest levels of Italian power.

He and Borsellino were later credited with revolutionising the understanding of the mafia, working closely with the first informants and compiling evidence for a groundbreaking ‘maxi-trial’ in which hundreds of mobsters were convicted in 1987.

“Thanks to Falcone and Borsellino, the Sicilian mafia became a notorious fact, not something that had to be proved to exist at every trial,” anti-mafia prosecutor Marzia Sabella told AFP.