Matteo Messina Denaro, one of the bosses of Cosa Nostra Mafia in Sicily and Italy’s most wanted man, was arrested by police while being treated at a private health clinic in Palermo, prosecutor Maurizio de Lucia said on Monday.
He had been a fugitive since 1993 and was considered by Europol to be one of Europe’s most wanted men, de Lucia told CNN.
“This is a victory for all the police forces that have worked together over these many years to bring a dangerous fugitive to justice,” Italian police chief Lamberto Giannini said in a statement congratulating the Carabinieri – Italy’s military police – and Palermo. Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni tweeted: “A great victory for the state that demonstrates that it does not surrender in the face of the mafia.”
Defense Minister Guido Crosetto called the arrest “a sign of a country winning against the mafia”.
Speaking to prosecutors, Meloni said that while Italy had not yet won the “war” against the mafia, it was a “battle that is fundamental to win”.
“This is a day where we can celebrate and tell our children that the mafia can be defeated,” she said.
Messina Denaro is believed to have ordered dozens of Mafia-related murders and received several life sentences in absentia for his many crimes, most notably in 1992 for his involvement in the separate murders of anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
He received his latest life sentence in 2020 for fatal bombings in Milan, Florence and Rome in the late 1990s, as well as the murder and torture of the 11-year-old son of an enemy who had testified against the Sicilian Cosa Nostra .
After being wanted for nearly 30 years, he was Cosa Notra’s longest-running fugitive.
Messina Denaro was arrested at around 10am local time following an operation carried out by more than 100 specialized agents with the anti-mafia carabinieri in the early hours of the morning. The Maddalena Clinic, where he was arrested, is a private clinic known for plastic surgery and other elective surgeries. It is not known what treatment Messina Denaro received.
The Carabinieri press office told CNN on Monday that he was being held in a “secret location.”
In recent years, anti-mafia security forces have closed in on Messina Denaro’s entourage, seizing some 3 billion euros ($3.25 billion) in assets belonging to companions, relatives and associates believed to be keeping his life in hiding, and made arrests between 2009 and 2010.
Messina Denaro – known as Diabolico – is believed to be one of the heirs of Bernardo Provenzano, who was arrested while hiding on a farm near Corleone, Sicily, in April 2006.
Crime was a family affair for Messina Denaro, who was born to a notorious Mafia boss in Sicily on April 26, 1962. Among those arrested in the 2009-2010 crackdown was his brother Salvatore Messina Denaro, who refused to give evidence about his whereabouts.
In 2013, his sister Patricia Messina Denaro was sentenced to 14 years in prison, a term she is still serving, for being a member of the Mafia.
While in hiding, Messina Denaro maintained several romantic relationships, including with his fiancée Franca Alanya, with whom he has a daughter, Lorenza. Another known connection of his was with an Austrian hotel worker who boasted that the pair had traveled to Greece on holiday, despite him being on Europol’s most wanted list.
Over the years, there have been many unsuccessful attempts to arrest him.
In May 2011, police believed they were watching Messina Denaro at a farm near his hometown of Castelvetrano, but were unable to capture him despite the involvement of hundreds of officers. His DNA was later found at the scene.
Adding to the police embarrassment was the arrest of a British man in a restaurant in The Hague in 2021 after anti-mafia police wrongly identified him as Messina Denaro.
A suspected sighting of him in a car in September of that year led to a manhunt and hundreds of alerts, the prosecutor said.
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