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Italy’s most wanted mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro arrested in Sicily

Matteo Messina Denaro the country’s most wanted mafia boss after he was arrested (Carabinieri)
Matteo Messina Denaro the country’s most wanted mafia boss after he was arrested (Carabinieri)

Italy’s most wanted mafia boss has been arrested after being on the run since 1993, in what the prime minister has described as a “great victory for the state”.

Matteo Messina Denaro, 60, was arrested in Palermo, Sicily, Italy’s Carabinieri police have confirmed.

“The last godfather” was captured at a private clinic where he was receiving treatment for an undisclosed medical condition, said Carabinieri Gen. Pasquale Angelosanto, who heads the police force’s special operations squad.

He was taken to a secret location by police immediately after the arrest, Italian state television reported.

Italian anti-mafia police caught Sicilian godfather Matteo Messina Denaro ending a 30-year manhunt for Italy’s most wanted fugitive. (Carabinieri)
Italian anti-mafia police caught Sicilian godfather Matteo Messina Denaro ending a 30-year manhunt for Italy’s most wanted fugitive. (Carabinieri)

Even while a fugitive, Denaro, who had a power base in western Sicily, was considered Sicily’s Cosa Nostra top boss.

Italy’s Prime Minister Giogia Meloni said the arrest proves the state “didn’t give up in the face of the mafia”.

“On the eve of the anniversary of the arrest of Totò Riina, another leader of organised crime is brought to justice,” she wrote on social media.

“My most sincere thanks, along with those of the entire government, go to the police force, and in particular to the Ros dei Carabinieri, to the national anti-mafia prosecutor and to the Palermo prosecutor’s office for the capture of the most significant representative of the the mafia crime.

“Prevention... of mafia crime, as attested to the fact that the first Executive Act was about the harsh penitentiary regime for mafia, will continue to be a top priority of this Government.”

He was the last of three longtime fugitive top-level Mafia bosses who had for decades eluded capture.

He is set to be imprisoned for two bombings in Sicily in 1992 that murdered top anti-Mafia prosecutors, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

Among other grisly crimes he was convicted of is the murder of a Mafia turncoat’s young son, who was strangled and his body dissolved in a vat of acid.

The arrest on Monday comes 30 years and a day after the January 15 capture in 1993 of convicted “boss of bosses” Salvatore “Toto” Riina, in a Palermo apartment after 23 years on the run.

A computer generated image of Denaro (R) next to an older photograph (AP)
A computer generated image of Denaro (R) next to an older photograph (AP)

Denaro went into hiding in summer of that same year, as the Italian state waged a crackdown on the Sicilian crime syndicate following the murders of Falcone and Borsellino.

Italy’s Mafia boss who set the record for the longest time on the run was Bernardo Provenzano, captured in a farmhouse near Corleone, Sicily, in 2006 after 38 years as a fugitive.

Once Provenzano was in police hands, the hunt focused on Messina Denaro, but despite numerous reported sightings of the boss, he managed to elude arrest until Monday.

Law enforcement have long said that such bosses rely on contacts and confidentiality of fellow mobsters and complicit family members to move the fugitives from hideout to hideout, supply basic needs, like food and clean clothing and communication, and a code of silence known as “omerta.”