Italy catches most wanted Mafia boss ending a 30-year manhunt
Italy arrests a ruthless operator who once boasted he could “fill a cemetery” with his victims and who has been hiding for the past three decades.
Italian police on Monday arrested one of the Sicilian Mafia's most well-known bosses, Matteo Messina Denaro, a cold-hearted operator who has been hiding for 30 years.
The 60-year-old was caught after a visit to a health clinic in the Sicilian capital Palermo where he was getting treatment. Messina Denaro surrendered without dispute, according to officials.
Reports say that the man who once boasted that he could "fill a cemetery" with his victims, had been a leading figure in Cosa Nostra, the real-life Sicilian crime syndicate depicted in the Godfather movies.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni headed to Palermo to congratulate officials in person for the "major blow for organized crime".
The mobster was believed to have been undergoing periodic treatment for colon cancer, and he was using a false ID.
When he was arrested, he was not armed, as per the prosecutors, and he seemed to be in good health, dressed well with luxury accessories, including a watch that officials valued at up to 35,000 euros ($37,872).
Messina Denaro's convictions included a life sentence given in absentia in 2020 for the 1992 murder of anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone.
Despite his fugitive status, he had been an "operative boss", with "contacts and economic resources", Chief prosecutor Maurizio De Lucia confirmed, warning that Cosa Nostra "has never been the exclusive property of Messina Denaro".
"Obviously the mafia is not defeated, and the biggest mistake to make would be to think that the game is over," he said.
"Because the game is not over."
The press conference on Monday was briefly halted by a father asking whether he might now see justice for his son, a mafia victim.
"We will not stop, we will do everything to get to the truth," De Lucia replied.
Messina Denaro had been on top of Italy's most-wanted list, facing accusations of multiple murders, mafia association, and use of explosives.
He was convicted in absentia of being responsible for the 1993 bombings in Rome, Milan and Florence that resulted in the killing of 10 people.
Messina Denaro was also convicted for killing a teenager who was strangled and dissolved in acid after his father turned state witness.
Messina Denaro's importance was as "the last one, the most resilient one, the 'purest' Sicilian mafioso remaining", Anna Sergi, a criminologist at the University of Essex, said.
"He is the essence of the great historical power of Cosa Nostra. The myths around his period on the run are part of the reason why the Mafia myth endures."
Little was known about where he had been or how he stayed hidden, she said, noting that he "must have had protection."
After the arrest, officers escorted Messina Denaro to a waiting vehicle, and his first words to officers were "I'm Matteo Messina Denaro", ANSA reported.
As he was driven away from the Palermo clinic by police, locals cheered and applauded in the rain, police videos showed.
"For me today represents the end, the end of Cosa Nostra," said Palermo resident Giovanni Guarino.
"The old mass murder mafia that brought down this country (is over)."
Prosecutors refused to provide details on how he had been living for the past 30 years, saying only that the investigation into his whereabouts gained pace in recent days.
They had information of a person that matches his description and who had an appointment at the clinic in Palermo, but his identity was only confirmed on Monday morning.
Prosecutors said wire-taps had been crucial in their inquiries.