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Who is Messina Denaro, Italian mafia boss arrested after 30 years? | News

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Italian police on Monday arrested Matteo Messina Denaro, the country’s most wanted mafia boss, who spent 30 years on the run.

Who is Matteo Messina Denaro?

Messina Denaro is accused of being a ruthless killer whose violence fueled the Mafia Cosa Nostra’s bloody reputation.

“With the people I killed myself, I could fill a graveyard,” he reportedly boasted.

The phrase is impossible to confirm, but it speaks of the legend that surrounds him.

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

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

Messina Denaro is a fan of Rolex watches, designer clothes, comics and video games and has a reputation as a playboy. He was once featured on the cover of an Italian magazine wearing sunglasses, looking like a rock star, but his victim list is long and the crimes he is accused of are horrific.

What is he accused of?

Born on April 26, 1962, in Castelvetrano, in southwest Sicily, Messina Denaro grew up in the heart of organized crime.

His father, Don Ciccio, was the head of the local clan, and his godfather, who attended his baptism, was also part of the mob. His first run-ins with the law began in 1989, when he took part in a bloody fight between two clans.

He was accused that year of murdering Nicola Consales, a hotel owner who complained to an employee that he always had “these mobsters under his feet”. Unfortunately, the employee was Messina Denaro’s lover.

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

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

Messina Denaro himself has been relentless throughout his career.

In July 1992, after allegedly participating in the murder of Vincenzo Milazzo, head of the rival Alcamo clan, he is accused of strangling his partner, who was three months pregnant.

The two bodies were buried in the field.

As head of the Castelvetrano clan, he sided with the Corleonesi clan, immortalized in the Godfather movies.

After Riina was arrested in January 1993, investigators say Messina Denaro continued his strategy of all-out brutality, providing logistical support for bombings in Florence, Milan and Rome that year that killed 10 people and injured about 100.

A court found that, in November 1993, he was one of the organizers of the kidnapping of Giuseppe Di Matteo, then 12 years old, whose father had given evidence about Falcone’s murder.

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

How had he evaded capture for so long?

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

In 1994 and 1996, statements by mobsters who later served as state witnesses shed some light on his role in Cosa Nostra.

In 2000, after what is known as the Maxi Trial against the Sicilian Mafia in Trapani, which convicted hundreds of defendants, he was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment.

As a wanted man, Messina Denaro managed his affairs by communicating under the pseudonym “Alessio” through the pizzini system, in which messages were left on small pieces of paper.

His whereabouts and activities during this period were the subject of intense rumours, including that he had had plastic surgery to change his appearance.

He had many sources of income, from drug dealing to gambling, both in Italy and abroad.

In 2015, an Italian prosecutor on her trail, Teresa Principato, said she likely evaded capture for so long because she was protected “to a very high level”. She didn’t say whether that meant Cosa Nostra, politicians or institutions.

“We have confirmation of its presence in Brazil, Spain, Great Britain, Austria,” she told Il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper at the time. “He travels on top-notch business, and his return to Sicily is irregular and increasingly rare.”

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

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

How was he captured?

Carabinieri General Pasquale Angelosanto, who heads the police force’s special operations squad, said Messina Denaro’s health helped investigators locate him. The fugitive was arrested red handed at the health post.

“It all led up to today’s date (when) he would have come for some tests and treatment” at the clinic, Angelosanto said on Monday.

Authorities did not say what he was being treated for, but he was captured at La Maddalena clinic in Palermo, a luxury medical center with a reputation for treating cancer patients, and Italian media said he had been undergoing treatment for a year.

During an evening press conference, authorities said Messina Denaro’s treatment could continue in a hospital prison ward.

Investigators said he was unarmed and dressed like a typical patient at the clinic, although he wore a watch worth at least 30,000 euros (about $33,000).

“He didn’t resist at all,” Carabinieri Colonel Lucio Arcidiacono told reporters.