Italy ramps up search for mafia godfather after dawn arrests of mobster allies

Police detained 22 of Cosa Nostra kingpin Matteo Messina Denaro’s closest aides and uncovering a secret network of messages that allowed the fugitive boss to give orders

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 April, 2018, 10:22pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 April, 2018, 10:22pm

Italian police on Thursday arrested some of Cosa Nostra kingpin Matteo Messina Denaro’s closest aides, uncovering a secret network of messages that allowed the fugitive boss to give orders to his mobster allies.

Police said in a statement that their “Year Zero” operation, which led to 22 arrests in towns near the Sicilian city of Trapani where Denaro’s criminal empire is based, allowed them to uncover a system of paper notes, or “pizzini”, that Denaro uses to communicate to his underlings.

“The operation is part of the larger investigative operation aimed at the capture of the fugitive Matteo Messina Denaro, also through the progressive weakening of his criminal networks and economic resources,” the statement said.

The suspects have been charged with crimes including mafia association and extortion.

Police confirmed to AFP that those arrested are Denaro’s closest allies, including brothers-in-law Gaspare Como and Rosario Allegra, who are alleged to manage the boss’ most important affairs.

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News agency AGI quotes wiretapped recordings of one of those arrested on Thursday praising the January 1996 murder and dissolving in acid of Giuseppe Di Matteo, the 14-year-old son of mafia turncoat Santino Di Matteo, kidnapped in 1993 in an attempt to stop his father from collaborating with the authorities.

“Did he not do the right thing? He did the right thing!” the agency reports the suspect as saying.

“It’s right that we don’t touch kids, but 700 days are two years, but why didn’t you retract? You obviously didn’t care about your kid.”

Another recording has Denaro and his father Francesco, a local boss, compared to Padre Pio (1887-1968), an Italian friar and saint who was the subject of great popular devotion in Italy, with a gangster saying that the two mafiosi should have statues dedicated to them.

Denaro, who has been on the run since 1993, is considered the most powerful force in the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, and is wanted for a range of crimes including dozens of murders.

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A former trigger man, who once reportedly boasted that he could “fill a cemetery” with his victims, the 55-year-old is believed to have become the “boss of bosses” following the death of Salvatore “The Beast” Riina in November.

In 2015 police discovered that he was communicating with his closest collaborators via the pizzini, which were being left under a rock at a farm in Sicily.

Thursday’s arrests come after a similar raid by police last month, in which 11 people were captured following the suspicious sale of 60 hectares (150 acres) of land in western Sicily.