Investigators searching for Matteo Messina Denaro spent years scouring the Sicilian countryside for possible hiding spots, arresting those who protected him and slowly narrowing down the circle of people he could trust. Members of his family and friends were later overheard in phone conversations discussing an unnamed person who was suffering from cancer and eye problems. Investigators were certain it was Messina Denaro, 60, who allegedly had eye surgery in the 1990s.
“We had clear information that the refugee had health problems […] that he would go to a medical facility to treat his illness,” Special Operations Commander Pasquale Angelosanto said at a news conference Monday. “So we worked to identify them […] those who had access to treatment of the suspected pathologies,” he said.
Investigators knew Messina Denaro would use a false identity, but they used a national health system database to look for male patients of the right age and medical history. “We shortened the list, ticked people off, until we were just a few people,” General Angelosanto said. “A few days ago we identified someone who had booked a specialist visit for Monday,” he added. The man had booked under the name Andrea Bonafede, the nephew of a close friend of Messina Denaro’s father, Italian media reported.
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Bonafede’s medical records showed he had seen an ophthalmologist for problems with his left eye, online newspaper Open said. He also had two surgeries for colon cancer, one in 2020 and another in 2022, he said. But when investigators dug a little deeper, they discovered that Bonafede appeared to have been in two places at once. Surveillance footage from his hometown of Campobello di Mazara on the date in question in 2022 showed the real Bonafede walking the dog when he was allegedly under the knife.
” You know who I am “
When the man posing as Andrea Bonafede made an appointment at the Palermo clinic for Monday, law enforcement organized a squad of 150 special forces to arrest him. Footage later released by police showed him arriving with his face barely visible under a hat, a Covid-19 mask and tinted glasses. As soon as they entered the clinic, they cordoned off the area and began verifying the identities of everyone present.
Unaware of this encirclement, the so-called Andrea Bonafede, in his brown fleece-lined leather jacket, performed the mandatory Covid-19 nose swab before heading back outside, perhaps for a coffee, according to Corriere Della Sera. It was only then that he realized what was happening. To the question “Who are you?” “, the head of Cosa Nostra replied: “You know who I am. Matteo Messina Denaro”.