Matteo Messina Denaro, Italy’s most wanted Mafia figure, has been arrested in the Sicilian capital, Palermo, after more than three decades on the run.
Messina Denaro is alleged to be the boss of the Cosa Nostra, the secretive Sicilian criminal society that controls protection rackets, prostitution, drugs, and illegal gambling, with a sphere of influence that stretches far beyond the Mediterranean island.
Messina Denaro, 60, was detained on Monday morning inside a health facility where he had gone to for “therapeutic treatment,” Italy’s Carabinieri police said.
In 2002, he was sentenced in absentia to life for the 1992 murders of anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who were killed at a time when the Cosa Nostra was waging an open war with the Italian state. He was also sentenced for masterminding terrorist bomb attacks in Florence, Rome, and Milan a year later, which killed ten people and caused widespread public outrage.
Nicknamed ‘‘Diabolik,” Messina Denaro began his criminal career as a Cosa Nostra hitman, rising through the ranks under ruthless former boss, the late Salvatore Riina, known as Belva or “The Beast.” Messina Denaro is estimated to have murdered around 50 people, once boasting “I filled a cemetery all by myself.”
The Cosa Nostra is the most famous Italian Mafia group, thanks to movies such as The Godfather, but it has grown weaker since its 1990s reign of terror.
Since then, many of its leaders have died or have been incarcerated in maximum security prisons, where they have little contact with the outside world. Meanwhile, the Sicilian clans have lost ground to other criminal groups, notably the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta, which controls much of the international drug trade.
In 2018, Italian police busted a Cosa-Nostra-linked illegal gambling operation that included an online betting company owned by Italy’s so-called “King of Betting,” Benedetto Bacchi.
The operation included a network of over 700 illegal betting shops throughout Italy. The Palermo-based operation generated around €1 million in profits per month, with “between €300,000 and €800,000” of that sum distributed among various Mafia families, according to prosecutors.
Messina Denaro was the last godfather, he represented all the secrets of Cosa Nostra,” Professor Anna Sergi, an expert in organized crime at England’s Essex University, told Reuters Monday. “It is the end of a myth, and the organization will have to cope with this.
“If Cosa Nostra wants to rebuild the leadership it had in the past it needs directives, but there are no big chiefs anymore,” she added.
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