Jailed mafia boss's death threat: I'll cut up prosecutor like a tuna

Death threat to prosecutor by jailed Sicilian mafia leader brings back grim memories of the murders of leading magistrates 20 years ago

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 December, 2013, 9:32pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 December, 2013, 2:50am

A death threat by a Sicilian mafia boss against the lead prosecutor in a historic mob trial has stirred grim memories of the murders of Italy's top prosecutors two decades ago.

Salvatore "The Beast" Riina, the boss of all Sicilian mafia bosses at least until his arrest in 1993, was captured by hidden microphones and prison cameras threatening Palermo prosecutor Antonino Di Matteo while talking to a fellow inmate.

"I'll cut him up like a tuna," Riina said of Di Matteo last week, according to judicial sources in Palermo who have heard the secret recordings. Bosses in the Sicilian mob, or Cosa Nostra, maintain their status and power even behind bars.

Riina's threat comes 20 years after Palermo saw magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino killed by mafia bombs.

Di Matteo is the lead prosecutor in a case - being held in Milan for security reasons - in which Italian officials are accused of holding negotiations with the mob at the time of the bombings.

He did not attend the Milan hearings on Thursday and has been put under "exceptional level 1" protection, the same as that for the president and prime minister.

"Nino Di Matteo's absence in Milan is a terrible sign," said Salvatore Borsellino, the brother of the magistrate killed in 1992, because it showed the state could not guarantee his safety.

Borsellino, who attended Thursday's hearing, said the failure of President Giorgio Napolitano and Prime Minister Enrico Letta to publicly express support for Di Matteo after news of the threat was leaked to the media was "very grave".

The case stems from a murky period in which the Cosa Nostra led by Riina - who seized control of the crime group in a 1981-83 mob war that left as many as 1,000 dead - targeted the state.

Di Matteo and other Palermo prosecutors allege that senior politicians and police officials held talks with the mafia after Falcone, his wife and three bodyguards were assassinated by a bomb planted under a road.

The state's willingness to enter talks after Falcone's murder encouraged further bombings, prosecutors say, and prompted the assassination of prosecutor Borsellino because he learned of and opposed the negotiations.

The Cosa Nostra's aim in the early 1990s "was to acquire political power in Sicily to then extend it nationally", mafia turncoat Giovanni "The People Slayer" Brusca, who detonated the bomb that killed Falcone, said in testimony on Thursday.

Brusca was surrounded by police as he gave his testimony.

Nicola Mancino, interior minister during the period of the alleged negotiations, is being tried for giving false testimony.

Another nine defendants, including three former senior paramilitary Carabiniere officers, face charges that they sought to blackmail the state. They all deny wrongdoing.

Riina was convicted of ordering the murders of Falcone and Borsellino. He is serving a life sentence in a prison not far from the high-security bunker courthouse where the hearings are being held. The 83-year-old boss watched the proceedings on closed-circuit television.

Di Matteo has been living under protection for at least 15 years, and navigates Palermo with nine bodyguards and three cars. On Sunday he was offered an Italian armoured military vehicle, which he refused.

"I can't move around the city in a tank," he said.