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Italy mafia boss arrested after 30 years on the run

Italy’s most wanted mafia boss – who had been on the run since 1993 – has been arrested at a private hospital in the Sicilian capital of Palermo, police have said.

Prosecutors say Matteo Messina Denaro, now 60, is a boss of Sicily’s Cosa Nostra mafia. The head of the Carabinieri police force’s special operations squad said that Messina Denaro was captured on Monday at the clinic where he was receiving treatment for an undisclosed medical condition.

Messina Denaro had been sentenced in absentia to a life term for his role in the 1992 murders of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. He also faces a life sentence for his role in bomb attacks in Florence, Rome and Milan which killed 10 people the following year.

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

In a police photo showing him sitting in a police van, Messina Denaro was wearing a brown leather jacket and white skull cap and his trademark tinted glasses. His face looked wan. He was taken to a secret location by police immediately after the arrest, Italian state television reported.

“Today, January 16, the carabinieri ... arrested fugitive Matteo Messina Denaro inside a sanitary structure in Palermo, where he had gone for therapeutic treatment,” Pasquale Angelosanto, the general of the carabinieri national police, was quoted as saying by AGI news agency.

Matteo Messina Denaro after his arrest (Carabinieri via Reuters)
Matteo Messina Denaro after his arrest (Carabinieri via Reuters)

In August 2021, the Italian public TV broadcaster Rai released a recording dating back to March 1993 in which the voice of Messina Denaro was identified for the first time during a trial in which he was called to testify. After a few weeks, the boss fled and had not been found since.

Messina Denaro, nicknamed ‘‘Diabolik’’, was once considered a candidate to be the Sicilian mafia’s boss of bosses, after the deaths of Bernardo Provenzano, in 2016, and Salvatore “Toto” Riina, in 2017. Messina Denaro’s arrest comes 30 years and a day after the capture of Riina, in a Palermo apartment after 23 years on the run. The mafia boss who set the record for the longest time eluding police was Provenzano, who captured in a farmhouse near Corleone, Sicily, in 2006 after 38 years as a fugitive

Messina Denaro, who had a power base in the port city of Trapani, in western Sicily, was considered Sicily’s Cosa Nostra top boss even while a fugitive. Police said in September 2022 that Messina Denaro was still able to issue commands relating to the way the mafia was run in the area around the western Sicilian city of Trapani, his regional stronghold, despite his long disappearance.

Messina Denaro, who comes from the small town of Castelvetrano near Trapani, is accused by prosecutors of being solely or jointly responsible for numerous other murders in the 1990s.

In 1993 he is alleged to have helped organise the kidnapping of a 12-year-old boy, Giuseppe Di Matteo, in an attempt to dissuade his father from giving evidence against the mafia, prosecutors say. The boy was held in captivity for two years before he was strangled and his body dissolved in acid.

Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report