Matteo Messina Denaro, the last great leader of Cosa Nostra, was Italy’s most wanted criminal. For 30 years it was the state’s great obsession. A sort of Moby Dick whose disappearance threatened the reputation of the country’s judiciary and police. But the ghost was suddenly arrested last Monday at a clinic in Palermo where cancer had been treated for more than a year. As it turned out, he lived in Campobello di Mazara, a small Sicilian community just three kilometers from his hometown, where his mother still lives. I went to the bar, to shop, to a pizzeria for dinner, regularly. He even regularly went to a boutique in Palermo to treat himself to luxury items, like the €35,000 Franck Muller watch he was wearing on his wrist when he was arrested. Why has no one managed to arrest him in 30 years? There is something wrong with the official account of the capture, which, according to the judges and experts consulted, is explained by the different levels of omertà that shaped the blow of his escape.
Messina Denaro, no one doubts that anymore, has enjoyed three effective spheres of protection in recent years. High level reporting involving administrators and politicians (there have been several arrests over the years). He also functioned as a middle class where his profitable businesses partnered with businessmen and were assisted by doctors, lawyers and service providers who looked the other way when needed. Investigators call it “mafia bourgeoisie”. Finally, he was never betrayed by his compatriots, who always considered him a benefactor, as in Campobello di Mazara or Castelvetrano. “He’s a good man. And it was a mistake to arrest him,” a resident of Castelvetrano protested to this newspaper last Wednesday. “The province of Trapani has a very high density of mafia and they don’t trust the state. If you work and If you have to look for food, only gangsters guarantee this. That’s the big problem, the mafia culture. Individual mafiosi can be defeated,” explains the Sicilian journalist Attilio Bolzoni, one of the greatest experts on the Cosa Nostra.
Carabinieri in the Sicilian town of Campobello di Mazzara, where mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro took refuge. Paul Manzo
The reason for the top-level protection, according to some judges and experts who have been called in, is the secrets that the last great boss of Cosa Nostra kept about the organization’s bloodiest period and the attacks of 1992 and 1993 in Rome, Milan, Palermo and Florence. Saverio Lodato, journalist and essayist, friend of the judge Giovanni Falcone, who was assassinated by the Cosa Nostra with one of these bombs in 1992, believes that “the secrets he kept protected Messina Denaro”. “He has the dates of 30 years of secrets between the state and the mafia, of the relationship they had. He has now been arrested because the times are right and he was probably tired of living in these conditions. It will be necessary to understand whether he wants to live in prison or work together. In this case, it is appropriate to ask which comes first, the omertà of the people or of the state. They always go hand in hand,” he says.
Italy has been waiting for years for the results that the Trattativa statomafia case (state mafia negotiations) could produce. An investigation that has searched for years for evidence of the negotiations that may have taken place between the organization then headed by Totò Riina “who directed it in the 1980s and early 1990s” and the Italian government. The suspicion is that in exchange for ending the attacks, the state was willing to ease the harsh prison conditions of 400 detainees and grant them other legal privileges.
Nino Di Matteo has been the judge in charge of investigating the issue for the past several years. He has no doubt that this is one of the elements that has kept Messina Denaro at large. “Unfortunately, our country has gone through similar situations on other occasions. Riina was also on the run for 23 years, Provenzano, 43. Unfortunately, legal history has taught us that these escapes lasted so long because the protective net around them was not only mafioso, but in many cases political, business and professional environment. Even institutionally. Now it must be determined whether MMD [Matteo Messina Denaro] It also had a cover and private protection,” he points to the phone.
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Subscribe toView of the damage to the highway that connects the city of Palermo to its airport, caused by the attack on anti-mafia prosecutor Giovanni Falcone, his wife and three police officers who were escorting him on May 23, 1992. Nino Labruzzo (AP)
One of the judges who knows the Messina Denaro case best is Sicilian Roberto Scarpinato, who spent years investigating the Cosa Nostra and the Corleonese clan as part of Giovanni Falcone’s legendary anti-mafia team. “MMD was one of those who attacked in 1992 and 1993 and one of the few who knows very important secrets affecting powerful men and Mafia accomplices. During the investigation we conducted against him, we checked how officers from the police forces who gave him information to avoid arrest protected him. Some were arrested and others convicted,” stresses this judge, who is currently a senator.
Shortly thereafter, Scarpinato conjures up a disturbing episode recently witnessed on television. “Two months ago, another key mafia boss in prison, Giuseppe Graviano, sent one of his men on TV to publicly announce that MMD was seriously ill and arrest himself in exchange for a secret trial that would have given him a future would allow the release of other godparents who were sentenced to life imprisonment for the attacks. They also have information about state secrets,” he emphasizes. And this man’s prophecy, released in prime time, came true.
The investigations that led to Messina Denaro, led by the Palermo Public Prosecutor’s Office by Paolo Guido, Deputy Public Prosecutor, were carried out in an artisanal manner; with the old method of General Carlo Alberto dalla Chiesa, assassinated by Cosa Nostra in 1982: listening, monitoring and checking list after list of patients who could have the same cancer. The disease and its derivatives were in fact the fugitive’s Achilles’ heel, which likely relaxed his precautions. In fact, he had recently been taking selfies with hospital nurses and exchanging phone numbers with a few patients.
Italy is now divided between those who believe he was arrested and those who believe he was arrested himself. Doubts shared by Judge Scarpitano. “Lately his entire demeanor had changed. He had put aside his sophisticated methods that he had previously used and committed a number of rookie mistakes such as using mobile phones, taking selfies, chatting on WhatsApp or using documents, the relatives of other mafia bosses belonged,” he says. “This is utter nonsense. No one wants to be arrested, especially not him,” sources from the investigator told the newspaper. “But it’s true that his health and a certain degree of exhaustion may have caused him to be less careful.”
Robot portraits police have used for years to search for clues about Messina Denaro.AP
Messina Denaro has always had excellent contacts at the highest levels in the country. In fact, something happened last December that could be linked to his arrest. The father of the Cosa Nostra capo began his criminal career as the custodian of the lands of the D’Alì family, owners of Banca Sicula (the most important in Sicily until it was taken over by another banking group in 1994). The two families became friends and prospered in different ways. Antonio D’Alì, son of the founder, was later Senator for Forza Italia and Secretary of State at the Ministry of the Interior. After being sentenced to six years in prison for Mafia-related crimes, justice had to be delivered last December. It was exactly a month before Messina Denaro was arrested.
However, no one doubts that Messina Denaro was protected. Bolzoni also believes that “state apparatuses” ensure security. “For the first time, some areas of the magistracy have worked well. But Capaci Crater is too big to enter a court now,” he insists, referring to the attack that killed Falcone and four people, including his wife and his escort. The documentation found so far does not suggest that there will be answers to the big questions of the last 30 years. But if Matteo Messina Denaro was the last capo, who’s in charge now? “There is no clear leader. He commands a business sector linked to the mafia bourgeoisie. The Cosa Nostra returned to its original nature when the Corleonese’s violent bracket ended. Now it’s a real mafia. He does business, infiltrates… he doesn’t want any problems with the state.” In short, a new era is beginning that no longer has to deal with its past.
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