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CRIME

Italy arrests ‘most wanted’ mafia boss after 30 years on the run

Italian anti-mafia police caught Sicilian godfather Matteo Messina Denaro on Monday, ending a 30-year manhunt for Italy's most-wanted fugitive.

Italy arrests 'most wanted' mafia boss after 30 years on the run
Officers from Italy’s ROS (Special Operations Group) Carabinieri outside the Maddalena clinic in Palermo, where mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro was captured. (Photo by Alessandro FUCARINI / AFP)

A trigger man who once reportedly boasted he could “fill a cemetery” with his victims, 60-year-old Messina Denaro was a leading figure in Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, and is believed to have become the “boss of bosses” following the death of Salvatore “The Beast” Riina in 2017.

The mobster was arrested “inside a health facility in Palermo, where he had gone for therapeutic treatment”, special operations commander Pasquale Angelosanto said in a statement released by the police.

READ ALSO: Ruthless Sicilian mafia boss Messina Denaro’s reign of terror

Italian newspaper Corriere reported Messina Denaro had been in line for a Covid test at a clinic when he was picked up by police.

He had reportedly been in the clinic for a year, undergoing periodic treatment for colon cancer under a false name – ‘Bonafede’ – and did not resist arrest.

Criminology expert Anna Sergi at the University of Essex said Messina Denaro was “the last one, the most resilient one, the ‘purest’ Sicilian mafioso remaining”.

READ MORE: How the brutal murder of an anti-mafia hero altered Sicily

“The secrets he is said to keep fuel conspiracies around mafia-state agreements in the 1990s,” she told AFP.

“He is the essence of the great historical power of Cosa Nostra. The myths around his period on the run are part of the reason why the Mafia myth endures.”

‘Extremely dangerous’

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said Messina Denaro was the “most significant” mafia boss and his arrest in his native Sicily was a “great victory” for the state in its war against organised crime.

Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani tweeted triumphantly that “The State wins over the Mafia”.

A photograph released by police showed Messina Denaro in the back seat of a vehicle, wearing a cream hat, sunglasses and a brown leather jacket with a cream sheepskin lining.

Before that, the only known photo of him dated back to the early 1990s. He had been on the run since 1993.

Messina Denaro was arrested a day after the 30th anniversary of the arrest of Salvatore “The Beast” Riina, the Cosa Nostra boss who died in 2017.

READ ALSO: How the mafia uses violence to influence Italian politics

He had been number one on Italy’s most-wanted list, accused of mafia association, multiple murders and use of explosives.

Messina Denaro is suspected to have been behind the 1993 bombings in Rome, Milan and Florence that killed 10 people, just months after Cosa Nostra murdered anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in similar attacks.

The arrest of “an extremely dangerous fugitive” was “an extraordinary day for the state”, Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi said.

In 2015, police discovered Messina Denaro was communicating with his closest collaborators via the pizzini system, where tiny, folded paper notes were left under a rock at a farm in Sicily.

Investigators spent decades searching the homes and businesses of the boss’s known allies on the island.

They looked in particular for hiding places in grottoes, caverns or even bunkers inside buildings where the man nicknamed “Diabolik” could be concealed.

Federico Varese, a criminology professor at Oxford University, said the fact that Sicilian mob families are weaker these days than their counterparts in Calabria or Campania may have helped in Messina Denaro’s capture.

He said it was “amazing that he was still in Palermo”.

“But it makes sense. If you want to continue to exercise a degree of power, you must be in the territory,” he said.

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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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