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Italy's most wanted mafia boss arrested in Sicily

By Sarah May on
 January 17, 2023

After more than three decades on the run, Italy's most wanted fugitive – notorious Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro – was arrested in Sicily on Monday and led away in handcuffs, as CNN reports.

Denaro, 60, was said to have been taken into custody at a private health clinic in Palermo, where he was undergoing treatment for an undisclosed heath condition, according to Fox News.

Prolific criminal caught

During his years as a much-feared Mafia figure, Denaro is reputed to have been the mastermind behind dozens of murders and, as such, was convicted and sentenced in absentia multiple times.

In 1992, he was given life sentences in the separate killings of prosecutors Paolo Borsellino and Giovanni Falcone, who had worked to put Mafia figures behind bars, as CNN noted.

Then, in 2020, Denaro received another life sentence for deadly bomb attacks in Florence, Milan, and Rome, as well as for the torture and killing of a boy who provided evidence against the Costra Nostra in Sicily.

So prolific was Denaro's involvement in brutal slayings such as those described above, he reportedly boasted, “I filled a cemetery by myself,” as the U.K. Guardian noted.

Though Fox News reported that there had been many reported sightings of Denaro in recent weeks, he did not end up in police custody until Monday, something the Guardian attributed to the unusually high degree of loyalty he commanded from those in his local area.

As Giacomo di Girolamo, author of a Denaro biography has said, “He wasn't one of those mafiosi who would go abroad...[h]e didn't need to build himself a bunker...[h]e was protected in his territory.”

“The last godfather”

Italian authorities and experts on the history of the Mafia lauded Denaro's capture as a momentous achievement for the country's military police.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni declared on Twitter that the arrest represents “a great victory of the state, which shows that it doesn't surrender in the face of the Mafia.”

“It's a day we can celebrate and tell our children that the Mafia can be defeated,” Meloni added.

In applauding the Carabinieri military police, the nation's police chief, Lamberto Giannini said of the capture, “It is a victory for all the police forces that have worked together over these long years to bring the dangerous fugitive to justice.”

Speaking to Reuters, as Fox News noted, Anna Sergi, an Essex University organized crime expert opined, “Messina Denaro was the last godfather, he represented all the secrets of the Cosa Nostra. It is the end of a myth and the organization will have to cope with this.”

“Important step forward”

According to the Guardian, while many are celebrating Denaro's capture after so many years of searching, others are cautioning that it is not necessarily the final battle in the ongoing war against organized crime.

Teresa Principato, member of the Direzione Nationale Antimafia and a former magistrate, told the outlet of Denaro, “He was never the boss,” and that there are likely others who still need to be brought to justice.

Former anti-mafia prosecutor Nino DiMatteo concurred with Principato's cautious tone, saying “This is great news, but the state's success will only be complete when we are able to understand what role Matteo Messina Denaro played in the bombing campaign of 92-93. It's also important to find out how he was able to remain a fugitive from justice for 30 years, and who was protecting him.”

DiMatteo continued, “Today's arrest is an important step forward, however, it would be a mistake to think that with today's arrest the fight against the mafia is finished,” and speaking to the ability of the Cosa Nostra to regenerate itself through business and political connections, he added, “I believe Matteo Messina Denaro knows a lot about those connections, and it would be a great step forward if he decided to collaborate with justice, and tell the truth about what he knows.”

In the immediate aftermath of his arrest, Denaro was taken by police to a secret location, according to Italian state television, and exactly where he will spend the remainder of his days has yet to be revealed, though because of his reportedly compromised health status, a hospital prison ward is said to be among the possibilities.