Messina Denaro: Italian police discover mafia boss’s hideout

Matteo Messina Denaro had been hiding in an apartment in a small town in Sicily before his arrest this week after three decades on the run, it emerged on Tuesday.

Italian Carabinieri in front of the Maddalena private clinic in Palermo on January 16, 2023, where Italy's top wanted mafia boss, Matteo Messina Denaro, was found.
Italian Carabinieri in front of the Maddalena private clinic in Palermo on January 16, 2023, where mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro was found. Photo by Alessandro FUCARINI / AFP.

Police officers were seen guarding the road leading to the unremarkable yellow-painted building in Campobello di Mazara, just up the road from Messina Denaro’s hometown of Castelvetrano in western Sicily.

Searches found no weapons but perfumes and luxury clothing, according to media reports. Police declined to comment to AFP.

Messina Denaro, 60, was arrested on Monday at the private La Maddalena health clinic in Palermo, where he had an appointment for treatment for colon cancer, under a false name.

A powerful boss of the Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia that inspired the hit ‘Godfather’ movies, he had not been seen in public since 1993.

But prosecutors and anti-mafia investigators said he remained an active boss for the Trapani region, a point of reference even beyond his territory, including in the resolution of disputes and top Mafia appointments.

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

Prosecutors said he was not armed when he was arrested and appeared in good health, dressed well with luxury accessories including a watch officials valued at up to 35,000 euros.

He “enjoyed high-level protection and the investigations are now focused on that protection”, Palermo prosecutor Maurizio De Lucia told reporters on Monday.

Investigators had in years past claimed Messina Denaro was based in Sicily but travelled widely, to mainland Italy and overseas. However, prosecutors declined to give further details on Monday.

Messina Denaro was one of the mob’s most brutal bosses, whose convictions included a life sentence given in absentia in 2020 for the 1992 murder of anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone.

But De Lucia warned with his arrest “obviously the mafia is not defeated, and the biggest mistake to make would be to think that the game is over”.

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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.