Matteo Messina Denaro

Italy’s Most Wanted Mafia Boss Arrested After Three Decades on the Run

The Italian mafia has been a fixture of organized crime in Sicily and the rest of Italy for centuries. However, the recent arrest of its most notorious leader, Matteo Messina Denaro, has brought the mafia back out of the shadows and into the international spotlight. On January 16, 2023, after more than 30 years on the run, Denaro was apprehended in a private clinic in Palermo, Italy, where was receiving treatment for an undisclosed medical condition, according to Carabinieri Gen. Pasquale Angelosanto, who heads the police force’s special operations squad.

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Now 60 years old, the Mafia boss was only a young man when he went into hiding. Denaro, who had a power base in the port city of Trapani, in western Sicily, was still the suspected head of the Cosa Nostra organisation and one of the most wanted criminals in Italy. The violent killer is the last of three longtime fugitive top-level Mafia bosses who had eluded capture for decades, dodging hundreds of police officers of the years that had been tasked with tracking him down.

He was tried in absentia and sentenced to life in prison for the 1992 murders of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, Falcone’s wife and several of their bodyguards. He was also convicted of the murder of a Mafia turncoat’s young son, who was abducted and strangled to death before his body was dissolved in a vat of acid.  Denaro who infamously claimed: “I filled a cemetery all by myself”, had apparently kept up his luxurious lifestyle, thanks to his several bankrollers who, according to prosecutors, include politicians and businessmen. Investigators have long claimed that the boss, wanted for more than 50 murders, is being shielded by powerful Freemasons in Trapani.

Denaro was arrested 30 years and one day after the capture of Salvatore “Toto” Riina, the “boss of bosses”, in a Palermo apartment. Messina Denaro had been in hiding since 1993, when the Italian government intensified its efforts to combat the Sicilian crime syndicate following the murders of Falcone and Borsellino. Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni called Messina Denaro’s capture a “great victory of the state” and noted that it demonstrates the government’s determination to fight the Mafia.

This is the second time a top Mafia boss has been arrested after a prolonged period on the run, with Bernardo Provenzano being captured in 2006 after 38 years as a fugitive. Despite their long evasions, all three bosses were eventually arrested in Sicily, likely due to the support and protection provided by fellow mobsters and family members. Both Riina and Provenzano refused to cooperate with investigators and spent their final years in the strictest possible prison conditions.

Matteo Messina Denaro

Image: Franco Lannino/Michele Naccariepa

In the 1990s, a crackdown against Sicily’s Cosa Nostra weakened the island’s mafia and decreased their dominance in Italy compared to other organized crime syndicates. However, on the mainland, the ‘ndrangheta syndicate, based in the southern region of Calabria, gained power and influence. The ‘ndrangheta, which relies on family ties for recruitment, was less vulnerable to turncoats and has become one of the world’s leading cocaine traffickers. Despite its weakened state, the Sicilian Mafia still runs drug trafficking operations and remains involved in other illegal activities such as infiltrating public works contracts and extorting small business owners for protection money.

The arrest also has implications for the culture of Italy. Denaro’s capture brings to an end the era of the notorious “Cosa Nostra” Sicilian crime syndicate depicted in “The Godfather” movies. The arrest of Denaro, Riina, and Provenzano have made it clear that the mafia, while still powerful, is no longer untouchable. The capture of Matteo Messina Denaro is a major victory for law enforcement and a sign of progress in the fight against organized crime in Italy. However, it is also a reminder that the mafia still wields a significant amount of power in the country and will continue to do so in the future.

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STAFF WRITER

Sam Mangioni

Sam Mangioni is an experienced Staff Writer with an extensive background in digital content production and news. Prior to working for Man of Many, Sam spent three years at Southern Cross Austereo where he served as a Content Producer and News Reporter for the flagship Triple M Breakfast Program. The Sydney-based reporter completed a Bachelor of Commerce from Macquarie University Majoring in Marketing in 2014. A specialist in sport, lifestyle and gear coverage, Sam's work has also featured in Fight News Australia.