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Police closing in on Mafia No.1 Messina Denaro

Family of Cosa Nostra boss arrested, financial supply line cut

13 December, 17:14
Police closing in on Mafia No.1 Messina Denaro (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Palermo, December 13 - Police said Friday that they have never been as close as they are now to capturing the Sicilian Mafia's fugitive Number 1 boss, Matteo Messina Denaro.

The comments came as close relatives of Messina Denaro were among 30 people arrested on Friday in a massive police operation. "This is one of the most important operations," in recent anti-Mafia efforts, senior police official Mario Parente said.

"We have never gotten so close as we are now to Matteo Messina Denaro".

Despite life as a fugitive, Messina Denaro is still reportedly active as the closest thing the Mafia has to a chief following the capture of 'boss of bosses' Bernardo Provenzano in 2006 after 43 years on the run.

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 been uncovered in the area, damaging rival companies and even private citizens who had inherited major sums of money". Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said the arrests were "really important" in isolating the fugitive and cutting off his finances.

"We thank law enforcement (agents)," said Alfano.

Among the 30 people arrested were two technicians who worked for the Justice ministry at a regional prison where they were allegedly involved in bid rigging.

The police also seized some five million euros worth of assets belonging to Messina Denaro's family.

The operation comes after police in April 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 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 search gained new impetus when police issued a new identikit picture of him.

A year earlier, 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 Mafia 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 the 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, Pietro Grasso, who was at that time the National Anti-Mafia Prosecutor, said the efforts had been so successful that "the Mafia effectively no longer has a Number 1".

Since then, Grasso went on to be elected for the centre-left Democratic Party in February elections and has become Speaker of the Italian Senate.

Messina Denaro, nicknamed 'Diabolik' after a cult Italian comic strip criminal, sealed a reputation for brutality by murdering a rival Trapani boss and strangling his girlfriend, who was three-months pregnant.