Police bust family members of Cosa Nostra's number one
Messina Denaro's sister, nephew, cousins arrested13 December, 11:29
Messina Denaro's sister Patrizia, his nephew Francesco Guttadauro and three of his cousins, Giovanni Filardo, Cimarosa Lorenzo and Mario Messina Denaro, were nabbed in an operation believed to have dismantled the web of protection around the Cosa Nostra chief. The relatives are thought to have maintained contact with Messina Denaro, who has been on the run since 1993, to help him run his crime syndicate based in the Sicilian city of Trapani and the surrounding province.
The system they created had a stranglehold on the local building sector, police said.
"The organization was able to constantly monitor the most important works (planned) in the area and intervene in their construction with a major network of companies controlled directly or indirectly by Mafiosi entrepreneurs or elements linked to them," investigators said. "Widespread extortion has also be uncovered in the area, damaging rival companies and even private citizens who had inherited major sums of money". The police also seized some 5 million euros worth of assets belonging to Messina Denaro's family.
The operation comes after police confiscated assets worth over 1.3 billion euros belonging to Vito Nicastri, a Sicilian wind-farm and solar-power magnate linked to Messina Denaro, in April in the biggest-ever assets seizure in the country's history.
A wave of arrests over recent years have closed the net around the 51-year-old Messina Denaro, one of the world's 10 most-wanted men, according to Interpol.
In 2011 the hunt kicked into a new gear when police issued a new identikit picture of him.
A year previously they were able to reconstruct his DNA.
Messina Denaro built up his power base in his native Trapani, in western Sicily, before beating Palermo chieftains to become Mob kingpin after Provenzano was caught.
His position at the top of Cosa Nostra was assured with the November 2007 arrest of Palermo boss Salvatore Lo Piccolo, a veteran mafia chieftain who had appeared to be vying with the younger mobster for control of crime syndicate and had the apparent support of the 'old guard'.
Messina Denaro had been expanding his criminal empire abroad and police found evidence of trips to Austria, Greece, Spain and Tunisia.
But police launched a major counter-offensive, implementing their 'scorched earth' campaign to try and flush Messina Denaro out, arresting scores of his underlings and seizing million of euros in assets.
Last year then National Anti-Mafia Prosecutor Pietro Grasso, who has since become Senate Speaker after being elected for the centre-left Democratic Party in February elections, said the efforts had been so successful that "the Mafia effectively no longer has a No.1".
Nicknamed 'Diabolik' after a cult Italian comic strip criminal, Messina Denaro sealed a reputation for brutality by murdering a rival Trapani boss and strangling his three-months pregnant girlfriend.
He is reportedly idolised by Cosa Nostra younger troops because of his ruthlessness and playboy-like charisma.