Today marks 30 years since the arrest of Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro.
“The Last Godfather” was one of Italy’s most wanted fugitives. Despite his bloody past, his arrest took place without violence on a wet January morning in Palermo, Sicily – although with more than 100 members of the armed forces said to have been involved in the operation.
Messina Denaro was undergoing cancer treatment at Palermo’s La Maddalena private hospital under the name Andrea Bonafide when police intervened and detained her. At the time he was wearing a €35,000 (£31,000) watch.
Locals clapped and shook hands with officers as the 60-year-old convicted murderer was led away in a black van.
His capture. 30 years and one day after “Boss of Owners” Salvatore “The Beast” Reyna was on the run for 23 years, the conclusion was reached. Reina, who died in 2017, reportedly mentored Messina Dinaro.
Organized crime experts now doubt the power of the mafia.
One says that “there is no longer a great chief” to step up and replace them like Reina and Messina Dinaro.
‘He represented all secrets’
Film series such as The Godfather have discredited mafia groups such as Sicily’s Cosa Nostra.
But competition between gangs has made life difficult for clans operating outside Italy’s traditional mafia heartlands.
Although Cosa Nostra retains control of its Sicilian territory and the ability to infiltrate the wider economy, it has been replaced by groups such as the Calabrian ‘Ndrangita in the drug trade.
Federico Varese, a professor of criminology at the University of Oxford, said the fact that Messina Denaro – a native of a town in western Sicily – was arrested in the island’s capital, Palermo, says a lot about how Cosa Nostra still exists. How does it work?
He said that mafias are not really global. “On the contrary, they are very rooted in their area and fugitives who want to maintain some kind of control and role in the organization hang around the place where they work.”
Anna Sergi, an expert on organized crime at the University of Essex, believes the Messina Dinaro may be the last of its kind.
“Messina Denaro was the last godfather, he represented all the secrets of the Cosa Nostra. This is the end of a myth and the organization will have to deal with it,” he said.
Ms Sergi said it was unclear who would succeed Messina Denaro in what is now a more factionalized mafia.
“If Cosa Nostra wants to rebuild the leadership it had in the past, it needs direction, but there is no longer a big head,” Ms Sergi said.
She added that she expects the group to try to rebuild ties with tribes in the United States.
The Bloody History of the Messina Dinaro
Whatever the future holds, Messina Dinaro’s violent past is a matter of record.
Also known as “Diabolik” after an elusive comic book thief, he was born in April 1962 in Castelvetrano, Sicily. His father Francesco, known as Don Ciccio, was the head of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra Mafia in the Trapani region.
He was immersed in the mafia lifestyle from a young age. He is said to have been trained to use a gun at the age of 14 and allegedly committed his first murder when he was 18.
But Messina Dinaro is a convicted murderer. Despite years on the run, he was convicted of horrific crimes in his absence.
These include the 1992 murders of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, the deadly 1993 bombings in Milan, Florence and Rome, as well as the kidnapping, torture and murder of the mafioso’s 11-year-old son. – State witness
Moreover, it is widely thought that Messina Dinaro boasted of his violent deeds. He is claimed to have once said: “I filled a graveyard by myself.”
In 2002, he was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in the 1993 bombings.
How a crime boss disappeared and escaped arrest.
When Salvatore Reina was arrested in 1993, Messina Dinaro disappeared after vacationing in Tuscany that summer.
During his years on the run from place to place, the mafia boss had a relatively comfortable lifestyle. According to the Washington Post, he apparently played video games and entertained multiple girlfriends.
But he was active enough to prove a slippery fugitive over the years, as fellow mobsters alerted him to any police raids and drove him from hideout to hideout.
With a strict code of silence no one would leave his abode – known as “omrta” – even his devotees.
There were close calls and false dawns for the police. In 2021, one Formula One fan arrested in Liverpool By the police in the Netherlands. The officers mistook it for a Messina dinar.
He was even featured in the Netflix documentary series World’s Most Wanted. But he was finally arrested on Monday.
He was captured after investigators confirmed his illness and the need for treatment at the Palermo Clinic, ending his reign as the last Mafia “secret keeper”.
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