Mafia boss Matteo Denaro, Italy’s most wanted man, arrested in Sicily

Italy’s most wanted man, mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, was arrested on Monday after three decades on the run.

He was detained in the Sicilian capital of Palermo, Italy’s Carabinieri police department said.

Messina Denaro, a convicted murderer who has been escaping authorities for 30 years, is believed to be the leader of the notorious organized crime group Cosa Nostra.

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

General Pasquale Angelosanto, who heads the Carabinieri’s special operations squad, said Messina Denaro was arrested at a private clinic in Palermo, where he was being treated for an unspecified medical problem.

A photo released by police on Monday showed Messina Denaro in a police car — visibly older than in his 1990s mugshots — alongside two officers.

Mug shots of the Italian mafia - April 2007
Italian mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro in the 1990s. Franco Lannino/EPA via Shutterstock

Police warned last September that despite his inconspicuousness, Messina Denaro could still give orders to organized crime groups around the western Sicilian city of Trapani.

He was sentenced to life in prison – at a trial he did not attend – for his part in the 1992 murder of anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

He faces a life sentence for involvement in bombings in Rome, Florence and Milan in 1993.

The arrest is the latest in a series of high-profile arrests of mafia bosses.

Last year, Rocco Morabito, then the second most wanted fugitive in Italy and a leader of the powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia group, was arrested in Brazil after 28 years on the run and extradited to Rome.

In 2006, police arrested Cosa Nostra boss Bernardo Provenzano, whom police dubbed as the “Capo di Capi,” or chief, after a 43-year manhunt.

Italian prosecutors accuse Messina Denaro of helping organize the 1993 kidnapping of 12-year-old Giuseppe Di Matteo in what they say was an attempt to dissuade his father from testifying against the Mafia. The boy was held for two years before he was strangled and his body dissolved in acid, prosecutors said.

Since Messina Denaro was placed on Italy’s wanted list in 1993, there has been global interest in his status, including a spectacular case of mistaken identity.

In September 2021, a British Formula 1 fan from Liverpool, who was dining with his son at a restaurant in The Hague at the time, was accidentally arrested by armed Dutch police officers on suspicion of the elusive gangster at the request of Italian authorities. , the man’s lawyer told the media at the time.

Messina Denaro, who is believed to have orchestrated the murders of anti-mafia prosecutors, was also the subject of the Netflix series “World’s Most Wanted.”

This is an evolving story. Check back later for updates.

Reuters, The associated press and Aina J. Khan contributed.

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