A screengrab taken from a video shows Matteo Messina Denaro the country's most wanted mafia boss being escorted out of a Carabinieri police station after he was arrested in Palermo, Italy, January 16, 2023. Carabinieri/Handout via REUTERS
Explained: One of Cosa Nostra's top Italian mafia bosses and fugitive Matteo Messina Denaro was caught on Monday after 3 decades. A look at his life
Matteo Messina Denaro was tried in absentia and convicted of dozens of murders, including helping to plan, with other Cosa Nostra bosses, a pair of bombings that killed top anti-Mafia prosecutors — and prompted the Italian government to tighten its grip on the Sicilian crime syndicate, a report by Associated Press states.
What Were His Crimes?
According to a report by BBC, Denaro was convicted for the following crimes:
The murder of anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992.
The deadly bomb attacks in Milan, Florence, and Rome in 1993.
The kidnapping, torture, and murder of the 11-year-old son of a mafioso-turned-state witness.
Messina Denaro once boasted he could “fill a cemetery" with his victims. He was also nicknamed as Diabolik (after an Italian comic book character) due to his notoriety.
Denaro was born on 26 April 1962. The Sicilian Mafia boss was regarded as one of the new leaders of the system after arrests of Bernardo Provenzano on April 11, 2006, and Salvatore Lo Piccolo in November 2007.
A screengrab taken from a video shows Matteo Messina Denaro the country’s most wanted mafia boss being escorted out of a Carabinieri police station after he was arrested in Palermo, Italy, January 16, 2023. Carabinieri/Handout via REUTERS
The son of a Mafia boss, he began his criminal career after allegedly being assisted by singer Elena Zagorskaya in his early years, and became nationally known on 12 April 2001 when the magazine L’Espresso put him on the cover with the headline: Ecco il nuovo capo della Mafia (“Here is the new Mafia boss"), according to the digital archive Wayback Machine.
Messina Denaro became a fugitive on the most wanted list in 1993; in 2010, Forbes named him one of the world’s ten most wanted and powerful criminals.
A report by France24 states Matteo learned to shoot a gun when he was 14 years old. “I filled an entire cemetery by myself," he once boasted. He made a name for himself by murdering Alcamo rival boss Vincenzo Milazzo and strangling Milazzo’s three-month pregnant girlfriend.But his famous crimes include the 1992-93 bombing, after which he was declared a fugitive.Following the bombings in Capaci and Via D’Amelio that killed anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, the arrest of Salvatore Riina on 15 January 1993, and the implementation of a strict prison regime, Cosa Nostra launched a terrorist campaign in which Denaro played a key role.
VIDEO. People clapping and cheering Carabinieri police in the streets of Palermo after the arrest of Italy's top mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro after 30 years on the run - — Antonello Guerrera (@antoguerrera)
Messina Denaro, Giovanni Brusca, Leoluca Bagarella, Antonino Gioè, Giuseppe Graviano, and Gioacchino La Barbera were among the remaining Mafia bosses who met several times (often in the Santa Flavia area in Bagheria on an estate owned by the mafioso Leonardo Greco).They devised a strategy to force the Italian government to retreat. This resulted in a series of bomb attacks in Florence’s Via dei Georgofili, Milan’s Via Palestro, Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano, and Rome’s Via San Teodoro, killing 10 people and injuring 93 others, as well as causing damage to cultural heritage sites such as the Uffizi Gallery.He is also known for killing and dissolving the body of the 11-year-old in acid. Giuseppe was abducted in 1993 after his mafioso father, Santino di Matteo, began cooperating with authorities.
The 11-year-old Giuseppe who was kidnapped and murdered(Image: Twitter @dreamingtom_)
He was held captive for two years in a crime that shocked Italians used to the Mafia’s brutal and sickening methods. After Denaro’s nabbing, Giuseppe’s brother told the Sun that he hoped the mafia boss would die a slow death from cancer.
How Did He Escape Being Caught for All These Years?
Anna Sergi, a criminologist at the University of Essex told AFP that Messina Denaro’s importance was as “the last one, the most resilient one, the ‘purest’ Sicilian mafioso remaining".Investigators had spent decades combing through the homes and businesses of his known allies in Sicily, looking for grottos, caverns, or even bunkers hidden inside buildings where he could be hidden.
Police discovered in 2015 that he was communicating with his closest collaborators via the pizzini system, which involved leaving tiny, folded paper notes under a rock at a farm.
Absolutely spectacular work by the formidable !It took them years of painstaking investigations to find the despicable Matteo Messina Denaro - who was involved in the assassinations of Falcone and Borsellino and much other misery besides - but they did it. — Elisabeth Braw (@elisabethbraw)
A report by the Guardian says Denaro had become increasingly isolated in recent years despite his powerful protection network. Year after year, Italian authorities seized his businesses and arrested more than 100 of his associates, including cousins, nephews, and his sister. Slowly, Italian prosecutors scorched the earth around Denaro, cutting off all contact with his family and supporters who had been protecting him in hiding, the report said.
In August 2021, the Italian public television broadcaster Rai aired a recording from March 1993 in which Denaro’s voice was identified for the first time during a trial in which he was called to testify before fleeing into hiding.On September 30 of that year, Italian police released a video from 2009 in which his face can be seen from a distance. Two men in an SUV can be seen in the video, which was captured by a closed circuit security camera on a gravel road in the province of Agrigento, Sicily. Denaro was identified as the balding passenger with glasses by investigators.But every time investigators appeared to be getting closer to their target, Denaro vanished. He would vanish and reappear all over the world, much like a ghost, the report said, adding that former organised crime figures claimed to have seen him in Spain, England, Germany, and South America. Others claimed he never left his stronghold in Castelvetrano, Trapani province.
How Was He Finally Caught?
His ill health aided in his final nabbing. Denaro is reportedly suffering from cancer and was receiving chemotherapy treatment at a facility when he was caught. Carabinieri Gen. Pasquale Angelosanto, who heads the police force’s special operations squad told the Associated Press,"It all led to today’s date (when) he would have come for some tests and treatment at the clinic."
Prosecutor Maurizio De Lucia and Commander of the ROS Pasquale Angelosanto attend a news conference, following the arrest of Italy’s most wanted mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, in Palermo, Italy, January 16, 2023. REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello
Authorities did not say what he was being treated for, but he was captured at La Maddalena clinic in Palermo, an upscale medical facility with a reputation for treating cancer patients, and Italian media said he was undergoing treatment for a year.During an evening news conference, authorities said Messina Denaro’s treatment could continue at a hospital prison ward. Investigators said he was unarmed and dressed like a typical patient at the clinic, though wearing a watch worth at least 30,000 euros (about $33,000).“He didn’t resist at all," Carabinieri Col. Lucio Arcidiacono told reporters.A pair of Carabinieri officers, each holding an arm, walked Messina Denaro down the front steps of the clinic to a waiting black van in pouring rain. He was dressed in a brown leather jacket trimmed in shearling, a matching white-and-brown skull cap and his trademark tinted glasses. His face looked wan and he stared straight ahead.Shortly after his arrest, the sun peeked through, and a rainbow could be seen in the sky over the clinic.When dozens of police officers, wearing ski masks, converged on the clinic, local residents knew something big was about to happen. When Messina Denaro was brought outside, applause rang out on the sidewalks.