Strong clan loyalty, locals, helped mafia boss Messina Denaro stay hidden

  • The ultimate mafia boss had an unusually strong loyalty.
  • Omerta’s code of silence helped the boss stay hidden.
  • ‘The Last Father’ Messina Denaro lived next door to his mother.

PALERMO, Italy, Jan 25 (Reuters) – Salvatore Catalano felt sick when he discovered that Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro was just a short walk from his home in Campobello di Mazzara in western Sicily.

Catalano’s brother Agostino He was the policeman who died in the 1992 bombing of anti-populist judge Paolo Borsellino – prosecutor Messina said Denaro helped him understand his mind.

“Now that I know he’s here and I don’t know him, there’s anger in my heart and soul,” Catalano told Reuters.

Messina Denaro, 60, was captured on January 16 after 30 years on the run. Police believe he spent most of the last year hiding in plain sight in Campobello di Mazzara, a town of about 11,000 residents a short drive from his mother’s home.

“We celebrated the prison with my family. He is in prison and will now be subject to stricter prison laws,” Catalano said.

The last confirmed sighting of Messina Denaro was in 1993, making it difficult for police to identify Italy’s most wanted man. He led an apparently plain life in the city, shopping for himself at a local supermarket, authorities said.

Prosecutors said their hunt was further complicated by the unusually strong loyalty they found among tribesmen west of Sicily.

Reuters interviewed dozens of residents on the streets of Campobello and from the nearby town of Castelvetrano, as well as prosecutors and police who helped track him down.

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They reveal the struggles investigators face as they try to break down the “omerta” or code of silence that has crumbled in other parts of Sicily but still clings to Messina’s Denaro, dubbed “The Last Father” by the Italian press.

“I arrested at least 200 people related to him. Only one of them decided to cooperate with justice,” said Roberto Piscitello, the prosecutor who tried to arrest Messina Denaro from 1996 to 2008.

“In the nearby provinces of Palermo and Agrigento, five of the 10 arrested were cots,” he told Reuters.

In the end, it wasn’t Messina Denaro’s colleagues who betrayed him, but his failing body.

Fake ID

Police said they were able to arrest Messina Denaro after receiving a phone call from his relatives that he had cancer.

Long suspected to be in his native Sicily, an investigation into the region’s cancer patients revealed that a man named Andrea Bonafede was operated on in the western Mazzara del Vallo and his mobile phone was active. Another part of the island.

Investigators said it was “the first significant evidence” that Messina Denaro could be hiding under a false identity, and court documents seen by Reuters suggest the man who operated the operation was not the real Andrea Bonafede, who is believed to be with him. Phone.

They took the patient home and learned that on January 16 he was due to undergo a routine chemotherapy treatment in the island’s capital, Palermo.

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After the patient arrived for his appointment, the police surrounded the clinic and went upstairs. He immediately admits his true identity but seems to have given up hope of spilling the beans on his life of crime.

“I have my own code of honor,” law enforcement sources told the jury when he first met him, referring to the much-maligned Sicilian Mafia regime of the past 30 years and not speaking to anyone outside the organization.

His silence means investigators must try to piece together as much as they can how he managed to avoid being found over the years.

The initial focus of their investigation was on the real Andrea Bonafede, a trained surveyor with no criminal record.

Bonafede confirmed that he had known Messina Denaro since they were young and confirmed that he had bought the criminal an apartment in Campobello di Mazzara, prosecutors said. He himself is in prison and has not publicly commented on the matter.

Police are also investigating the driver, olive farmer Giovanni Lupino, who had no previous police record. He was carrying a switch and had switched off his two mobile phones in what jurors said was an attempt to avoid detection.

He denied knowing the real identity of the passenger.

Palermo’s chief prosecutor, Maurizio De Lucia, told Reuters that people like Bonafede represent the “first link” of the fugitive matrix – those who meet his basic needs.

But he believes his support network had deep roots.

“His state has helped him for many years. It is reasonable to think that he has received protection from professionals, entrepreneurs,” he said.

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Doctor Alfonso Tumbarello is among those under investigation for helping the boss. The lawyer said he was confident his client would be able to prove his innocence.

Business contacts

Jurors said they found evidence that Messina Denaro visited Spain, Greece and Austria over the years. But the main focus of his business remained in western Sicily, meaning he spent most of his time on the island.

Dozens of low-level mafiosi have been arrested in the region over the years – the dwindling of Messina Denaro’s inner circle has repeatedly cut off promising leads that judges thought would one day lead them to the boss.

“(But) we couldn’t sacrifice justice. We couldn’t leave criminals on the streets,” Paolo Guido, the prosecutor who led the hunt for the boss over the years, told Reuters.

Prosecutors say the mob boss has built up extensive financial interests beyond traditional Mafioso affairs, helping him establish a network of trusted white-collar professionals.

In the year In a 2013 secret prison recording, former boss Salvatore “The Beast” Riina complained that his one-time defense was investing in renewable energy projects instead of focusing on hardcore mafia activities.

“In the Sicilian context, those who are trusted to create jobs and the consensus to do business, get protection,” said Colonel Antonello Paraciletti Mollica, head of the Carabinieri’s special force anti-crime unit in Palermo.

Writing by Angelo Amante; Edited by Crispian Balmer and Ross Colvin

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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