“What will happen in detail, we cannot know,” Palermo’s attorney general Lia Sava told Rai state radio about the future of the mafia.
“But one thing is certain. Cosa Nostra consists of rules. It has been supporting itself on these rules for 150 years, so it will certainly put those rules into effect to repair the damage and create the new leadership structure needed after the arrest,” Sava said.
While Messina Denaro wielded great influence in the Mafia, Cosa Nostra hasn’t had a supreme capo for decades, researchers say.
The almost mythical figure of a ‘boss of bosses’ ended in 1993, with the arrest in a Palermo hideout of Salvatore ‘Toto’ Riina, who had been Italy’s leading fugitive for 23 years.
According to testimonies leading to his conviction for many murders, including the 1992 bombings that killed Italy’s two top anti-mafia magistrates, Riina was in charge of Cosa Nostra’s “commission” which directed illegal business and pursued a strategy of deadly retaliation against the state for its crackdown on the mafia.
“After Riina, there has never been an absolute boss,” said Rome’s chief prosecutor Francesco Lo Voi, who took up his position last year after serving as Palermo’s chief prosecutor and helping coordinate the hunt for Messina Denaro.
Even if the “capo di capi” figure still existed, Messina Denaro would not have qualified because he came from Castelvetrano on the western edge of Sicily, not from Palermo or the surrounding countryside, Lo Voi noted, citing the rules of Cosa Nostra.
Yet Messina Denaro, the son of a crime boss, was “one of the main bosses and (he) had ties to other criminal organizations in Italy and abroad,” Lo Voi told The Associated Press.
“That’s why his arrest certainly means an earthquake for the Cosa Nostra right now,” said Lo Voi.
Another boost to Messina Denaro’s prestige was his fierce record as a murderous clan boss who held sway over much of western Sicily, Lo Voi said.
A military plane transported Messina Denaro on Tuesday to a maximum-security prison in L’Aquila, in the central Apennines, where strict rules for top organized crime bosses who don’t want to cooperate with authorities include severely limited visitor privileges.
Italy’s anti-mafia prosecutor, Giovanni Melillo, said putting Messina Denaro permanently behind bars will not change the strategy Cosa Nostra has followed for more than a decade.
That strategy is “no longer a strategy of violence” against the state, Melillo said on state television Monday evening, referring to the 1992 bombings that killed prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in Palermo, and the 1993 bombings of churches. in Rome, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and an art gallery in Milan, part of the Mafia’s effort to try and get the state to stop cracking down on the Cosa Nostra.
Instead, Cosa Nostra is keeping a low profile and opting to “penetrate the social and economic fabric” of Italy, Melillo said.
A small army of defectors helped Italian authorities put dozens of Cosa Nostra members behind bars in recent decades, and as a result gave impetus to the ‘ndrangheta crime syndicate in Italy’s southern “toe” that has pushed the Sicilian mafia into the could shade. influence to become one of the world’s largest cocaine brokers.
In the 1980s, an FBI undercover operation in conjunction with Italian investigators, including Falcone, erupted into a multimillion-dollar heroin ring and cocaine distribution operation involving Sicilian Mafia figures and New York’s Gambino crime family.
But Cosa Nostra has recently “relapsed extensively into drug trafficking,” including cocaine, synthetic illicit drugs and heroin, Lo Voi said. With enough drug trafficking to go around, there is no real rivalry between Cosa Nostra and the ‘ndrangheta, he added.
With drug trafficking, the revenue is huge and the activity is less dangerous than extortion, Lo Voi said.
Pressuring local businesses to pay crime clans monthly protection money known as “pizzo” has long been a mainstay of Cosa Nostra’s activities.
But some 15 years ago, grassroots groups of youth in Palermo rebelled against their elders’ long-term devotion to the practice. By creating an organization called ‘Addiopizzo’ or ‘Farewell Pizzo’, they encouraged companies to report extortionists to the authorities instead of paying them.
Control over local territory is crucial to the mafia’s existence.
Lo Voi said neighborhood gangs provided groceries to residents during the COVID-19 pandemic when breadwinners lost their jobs.
That complex relationship – a combination of advantage, fear and even complicity – is suspected of helping Messina Denaro evade the law for 30 years, most of that time in Sicily.
Since his arrest, police have searched his most recent hideout: a house on a dead-end alley in Campobello di Mazara, near Trapani. The owner is Andrea Bonafede, the name the fugitive used on an ID card to undergo his cancer treatment.
The real Bonafede is under investigation, including at least one of the doctors involved in treating the fugitive at the clinic as of late 2020, Italian news reports said.
Fellow cancer patients told La Repubblica daily that the man who wore designer scarves and hand-painted shirts chatted freely with them during chemotherapy and sometimes gave them bottles of olive oil.
Six years ago, Italian authorities seized €13 million worth of olive groves and bottling plants linked to Messina Denaro in the countryside near Trapani.
Yelling “Bravi!” was standing on the street outside the clinic when two Carabinieri officers took him out of the clinic.
But others wondered why it took decades to capture him.
“I long expected it to happen, but it’s absurd that it took 30 years,” Salvatore Borsellino, brother of the murdered prosecutor, told the AP in a video interview from Palermo.
It is clear “that he enjoyed cover” at the local level, Borsellino said. “But there must also have been institutional complicity.”