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

Sicilian godfather Matteo Messina Denaro, who was arrested on Monday after 30 years on the run, is known for shocking violence which has fuelled the bloody reputation of the Cosa Nostra mafia.

PROFILE: Ruthless Sicilian mafia boss Messina Denaro's reign of terror
Italian anti-mafia police officers after the arrest of Matteo Messina Denaro on January 16th in his native Sicily after 30 years on the run. (Photo by Alessandro FUCARINI / AFP)

“With the people I have killed myself, I could fill a cemetery,” he is said to have boasted.

The quote is impossible to confirm, but speaks to the legend that surrounds him.

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

Known as Diabolik, after an Italian comic character, he was the undisputed leader of the Cosa Nostra in the Trapani province of western Sicily.

But his power extended further, including to the capital Palermo, where he was arrested.

A fan of Rolex watches and designer clothes – as well as comic books and video games – he had a reputation as a playboy, and was once featured on an Italian magazine cover in dark glasses, looking like a rock star.

But his list of victims was long and his crimes horrific, not least the murder of the teenage son of a turncoat.

The boy was kidnapped and held captive for two years and his body then dissolved in acid.

Born on April 26, 1962, in Castelvetrano, in southwest Sicily, MessinaDenaro grew up in the heart of organised crime.

His father, Don Ciccio, was the head of the local clan and his godfather, who attended his baptism, was also a member of the mob.

His first run-ins with the law began in 1989, when he took part in a bloody struggle between two clans.

He was accused that year of murdering Nicola Consales, a hotel owner who complained to an employee of always having “these little mafiosos under our feet”.

Unfortunately, the employee was Messina Denaro’s mistress.

In 1992, he was part of a mob group sent to Rome to try and kill anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone.

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

The group was eventually recalled by Toto Riina, the Corleone boss dubbed “the Beast”, who decided on another approach. Falcone was murdered in a car bomb near Palermo on May 23, 1992.

Messina Denaro himself was ruthless throughout his career.

In July 1992, after taking part in the murder of Vincenzo Milazzo, the head of the rival Alcamo clan, he strangled the latter’s partner, who was three months pregnant.

The two bodies were buried in the countryside.

As head of the Castelvetrano clan, he was allied to the Corleonesi clan, who were immortalised in the legendary Godfather films.

After Riina was arrested in January 1993, Messina Denaro continued his strategy of all-out terror, providing logistical support to bombings in Florence, Milan and Rome that year, which killed 10 people and wounded around 100.

In November 1993, a court later found, he was one of the organisers of the kidnapping of Giuseppe Di Matteo, then 12, whose father was a member of the powerful Cosa Nostra clan and was involved in the murder of antimafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone – and had given testimony about the killing.

In one of the most notorious Cosa Nostra incidents, the boy was held for 779 days before being strangled and his body dissolved in acid.

READ ALSO: Family of child dissolved in acid by Siclian mafia to receive €2 million

Messina Denaro had disappeared from public view in the summer of 1993,beginning what would be 30 years on the run from accusations including mafia association, murder, theft and possession of explosives.

In 1994 and 1996, statements from mobsters who turned state witness shed some light on his role within Cosa Nostra.

In 2000, after a ‘maxi-trial’ against the Sicilian Mafia in Trapani, he was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment.

During his decades as a wanted man, Messina Denaro managed his affairs by communicating under the pseudonym “Alessio” through the pizzini system, where messages were left on tiny bits of paper.

His whereabouts and his activities during that time were subject to intense rumour, including that he had plastic surgery to render his appearance unrecognisable.

He had numerous sources of revenue, from drug trafficking to gambling, both in Italy and abroad.

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

In 2015, an Italian prosecutor on his trail, Teresa Principato, said he had likely eluded capture for so long because he was protected “at a very high level”.

She did not say whether this meant Cosa Nostra, politicians or institutions.

“We have confirmation of his presence in Brasil, Spain, Britain, Austria. He travels for extremely high-level business, and his return to Sicily isirregular and increasingly infrequent,” she told Il Fatto Quotidiano daily at the time.

In 2020, several of Messina Denaro’s collaborators were arrested, tightening the net around the boss.

And in October that year, he was again sentenced in absentia for his role in Falcone’s murder.

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Italian killer with mafia links arrested in France after 16 years on the run

A convicted murderer linked to one of Italy's most powerful mafia organisations was arrested on Thursday in central France, Interpol said.

Italian killer with mafia links arrested in France after 16 years on the run

Edgardo Greco, 63, is suspected of belonging to the notorious ‘Ndrangheta, a powerful mafia organisation in Calabria, southern Italy.

He is wanted in Italy to serve a life sentence for the murders of Stefano and Giuseppe Bartolomeo, and accused of the attempted murder of Emiliano Mosciaro “as part of a mafia war between the Pino Sena and Perna Pranno gangs that marked the early 1990s”, Interpol said.

The Bartolomeo brothers were beaten to death with iron bars in a fish warehouse, Italian police said.

Greco’s arrest in central France came with help for Italy and France from the “Cooperation against ‘Ndrangheta Project” (I-CAN) run by Interpol, which facilitates police cooperation between its 195 member states.

READ ALSO: Italian police seize €250 million and arrest 56 in latest mafia blitz

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi, quoted in Interpol’s statement, said the arrests demonstrated his country’s commitment to “fighting all forms of organised crime and locating dangerous fugitives”.

The ‘Ndrangheta is considered Italy’s most extensive and powerful mafia group, Interpol said, operating worldwide and with strong ties to the trade in cocaine bound for Europe from South America

I-CAN’s job is help raise awareness of ‘Ndrangheta and their modus operandi, sharing police information to dismantle their networks and operations, the agency said.

The arrest of Greco, who worked in the evenings in a pizza restaurant under an assumed named according to Italian media, came a week after Italian police said it had dismantled a ‘Ndrangheta mafia ring dominating a large area of southern Calabria and seized assets exceeding 250 million euros.

Fifty-six people, many already in prison, were put under criminal investigation for a series of crimes including mafia-related conspiracy, extortion, kidnapping, bribery and possession of weapons, police and prosecutors said.

The arrest of Greco comes just over two weeks after Italian police arrested one of the most notorious bosses of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra mafia, Matteo Messina Denaro, who had been on the run for 30 years.

The 60-year-old was arrested after visiting a health clinic where he was being treated in the Sicilian capital Palermo