Matteo Messina Denaro: The Mafia and Deep Corruption – TBEN – 18/01/2023


Thirty years is a long time to go into hiding and evade capture as a most wanted man, only to be exposed to the public through a visit to a cancer clinic.

But that’s how Matteo Messina Denaro – the last known boss of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian mafia – was arrested by the police on Monday. Denaro was reportedly waiting in line for a medical appointment when a police officer asked him for identification.

Police knew Denaro would be there: “It all led up to it [the day] he should come for some tests and treatments,” Carabinieri General Pasquale Angelosanto told local reporters.

Rumors had been circulating in Italy for some time that Denaro was ill. They had investigators search health databases, looking for a person who matched the mob man’s description. All credit goes to organized crime investigators, said Felia Allum, a professor of organized crime and corruption at the University of Bath in the UK.

“It’s all very nice for [Italian Prime Minister] Giorigia Meloni to now go to Palermo and take credit, but the political level and political will are separate from the hard work of those investigators,” Fellum said.

Denaro came from Cosa Nostra’s terrorist history

Following the arrest, Meloni tweeted that the arrest had been a major victory for the state, seemingly referencing an era in Mafia history when the Cosa Nostra waged a terrorist campaign against the state.

Allum said that when the Berlin Wall came down, Italy was under pressure from the EU and protest parties, and its political system was beginning to unravel. The Mafia had managed to avoid most legal repercussions thanks to agreements with certain political sponsors – some evidence of which has emerged in court cases – but when these sponsors could no longer afford to abide by those agreements, Cosa Nostra took over revenge begins. the 90’s.

Antonio Balsamo, head of the judiciary in Palermo, told reporters the week of the arrest that Denaro had been in charge during that “terrorist strategy to attack the state”, particularly at its peak in 1992 and 1993.

Cosa Nostra led a wave of high-profile assassinations and bombings. It killed Salvo Lima, a politician, two prosecutors, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, and detonated bombs in public areas in Milan.

“People talk about closing an era. But Denaro changed the Mafia; he became a much more camouflaged, submerged Cosa Nostra who disappeared, understanding that the real way to make money was to be invisible,” Allum said. “If you kill people violently, as traditional mafia have done, then you have the attention of the police. If you disappear, you can make deals with facilitators and facilitators who launder your money, and so on.”

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (left) is suspected of historical ties to the mafiaImage: Alessandra Tarantino/TBEN Photo/Photo Alliance

But Denaro is just the last known boss of Cosa Nostra – the mafia, organized crime in Italy and in Europe – is not what it was 30 years ago, and experts suspect that many other bosses have come and gone since then. And the disappearance of the Cosa Nostra means that Denaro’s arrest may not be as significant as it has been made out to be.

The last of the old mafia bosses

However, people in Italy still care about those crimes of the past.

“There are victims from that period that need to be acknowledged,” said Anna Sergi, a professor of criminology at the University of Essex in the UK. “The name of Matteo Messina Denaro will be remembered forever. He is the last of that old-fashioned Cosa Nostra, where everything comes down to his boss.”

That boss “is becoming a superstar these days,” Sergi said, adding, “that’s not happening anymore and it won’t happen again.”

“They have learned a lesson and are immersed. On an administrative level, Denaro probably didn’t mean much [anymore]Sergi said. “Each family in every town and village went their own way, they’re very localized now.”

Some, Sergi said, are involved in drug distribution in Italy, but not drug importation — which is usually handled by the ‘Ndrangheta or Camorra mafia families in other parts of Italy — so Sicily’s Cosa Nostra has that form of international reach not.

However, Denaro’s arrest could still have repercussions outside the country, which could still be of concern to the judiciary and the Italian government.

“Denaro has a lot of money and has invested internationally. He [created] a network of facilitators in Italy and in Europe to launder his money. And other members of Cosa Nostra certainly use that network,” said Sergi.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni (left) and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (right) in November 2022
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni (left) will want to present a clean, corruption-free Italy. Meloni can be seen here with Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission.Image: Yves Herman/REUTERS

Why was Denaro arrested now?

There is still a lingering question: “why now?”

Investigators seem to have known that Denaro lived in western Sicily, near his hometown of Trapani, and that he sought medical attention in the capital, Palermo. So why did they strike only this Monday, three months after Italy elected a far-right government with Meloni at the top? Her government is one that includes the party of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a man suspected of historical mafia ties.

Do prosecutors expect Denaro to reveal the size of his invisible network?

“Meloni is tough. If Berlusconi expects a guarantee of protection from the mafia, I don’t think he’ll get it from her — she’s not interested in that sort of thing,” said Ernesto Savona, director of Transcrime, an investigative firm. center in Milan.

But, Savona said, Italy needs to secure its “legitimate” economy and protect it from “infiltration” by the criminal economy. Future prosperity depends on billions of euros in post-pandemic funds from the European Union.

“They fear that at least some of this money will end up in the pockets of criminal organizations, increasingly because of corruption,” Savona said. “Today, organized crime and corruption are very closely linked and are the glue between lawyers, accountants, politicians and criminals.”

So Giorgia Meloni has an interest in making Italy look clean.

“But Meloni also has to take into account that people in her party may have these ties to organized crime, as many people in political parties do,” Savona concluded, as if criminal elements in politics – including determining votes in elections – are completely were normal. .

“It’s part of the business,” he said – “the traffic influence.” And with the Italian mafia, the influence has always run deep.

Edited by: Sean Sinico