Italy arrests top mafia boss Messina Denaro in Sicilian hospital

  • Cosa Nostra boss imprisoned after 30 years
  • Detained in a private hospital in Palermo
  • Convicted of his part in killing anti-mafia prosecutors

PALERMO, Italy, Jan. 16 (Reuters) – Italian police on Monday arrested Matteo Messina Denaro, the country’s most wanted Mafia boss who had been on the run since 1993 when he raided a private hospital in the Sicilian capital Palermo where he was being treated.

Prosecutors say that 60-year-old Messina Denaro is a boss of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra mafia.

He was sentenced to life in absentia for his role in the 1992 murders of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

Police said they detained him Monday morning at the “La Maddalena” hospital in Palermo, in the city’s northern suburbs. Footage posted on social media showed locals applauding and shaking hands with police in balaclavas as a minivan believed to contain the suspect was driven away.

Messina Denaro had been having appointments at the hospital for some time, the Italian news agency Ansa reported, adding that police had secretly moved officers to the building overnight to protect other patients.

According to Italian news agencies, he is said to be suffering from cancer.

Messina Denaro also faces life imprisonment for his role in bombings in Florence, Rome and Milan that killed 10 people the following year.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni hailed the arrest as “a great victory for the state that shows that it never gives up in the face of the mafia”.

“EXTRAORDINARY EVENT”

The arrest comes nearly 30 years after the police arrest of Salvatore “Toto” Riina, the most powerful boss of the Sicilian mafia of the 20th century. He finally died in prison in 2017, having never violated his duty of confidentiality.

“It is an extraordinary event, of historical significance,” said Gian Carlo Caselli, who was a prosecutor in Palermo at the time of Riina’s arrest. The fact that the arrest coincided with Riina’s anniversary made it even more significant, he added.

However, he said Cosa Nostra has shown its ability to survive the arrest of high-ranking figures and regroup in the past.

Police said in September 2022 that despite his long disappearance, Messina Denaro was still able to issue warrants regarding the way the Mafia was run in the area around the western Sicilian city of Trapani, his regional stronghold.

Messina Denaro, from the town of Castelvetrano near Trapani, has been accused by prosecutors of being solely or partly responsible for numerous other murders in the 1990s.

In 1993, he helped organize the kidnapping of a 12-year-old boy, Giuseppe Di Matteo, in an attempt to dissuade his father from testifying against the Mafia, prosecutors say. The boy was held captive for two years before being strangled and his body dissolved in acid.

additional reporting by Angelo Amante, written by Keith Weir and Cristina Carlevaro, editing by Federico Maccioni, Gavin Jones, and Nick Macfie

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

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