Rome / Milan
Matteo Messina Denaro, one of the bosses of Cosa Nostra Mafia Police arrested in Sicily and Italy’s most wanted man while he was receiving treatment at a private health clinic in Palermo, prosecutor Maurizio de Lucia said on Monday.
De Lucia told CNN he had been on the run since 1993 and was considered one of Europe’s most wanted men by Europol.
The head of the Italian police, Lamberto Giannini, said in a statement that he congratulated the Carabinieri – Italy’s military police – and Palermo, the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni tweeted: “A great victory for the state, which shows that it does not give up in the face of the mafia.”
Defense Minister Guido Croceto called the arrest “a sign of the state’s victory over the mafia”.
Speaking outside the public prosecutor’s office, Meloni said that while Italy had not yet won the “war” against the mafia, it was “an essential battle to win”.
“It is a day when we celebrate and tell our children that the mafia can be defeated,” she said.
Messina Denaro is believed to have ordered dozens of mafia-related murders, and has been sentenced to life in prison several times for his numerous crimes, most notably in 1992 for his involvement in separate murders of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
He was recently sentenced to life in prison in 2020 for the deadly bombings in Milan, Florence and Rome in the late 1990s, and for the murder and torture of the 11-year-old son of an enemy who gave evidence against the Sicilian Cosa Nostra.
Having been a wanted man for nearly 30 years, he has been the longest-running hiding Cosa Notra fugitive.
Messina Denaro was taken into custody around 10 am local time after a raid carried out by more than 100 specialized agents with the anti-Mafia Carabinieri in the early hours of the morning. The Maddalena clinic where he was arrested is a private clinic known for plastic surgery and other elective surgeries. It is not known what kind of treatment Messina Denaro was receiving.
The Carabinieri’s press office told CNN on Monday that it was being held in a “secret location”.
In recent years, anti-mafia security forces have been closing in on Messina Denaro, seizing some 3 billion euros ($3.25 billion) in assets belonging to associates, relatives and associates believed to be supporting his life in hiding, making arrests between 2009 and 2010.
Messina Denaro – better known as Diabolic – is considered one of the successors to Bernardo Provenzano, who was captured while hiding on a farm outside Corleone, Sicily, in April 2006.
The crime was a family affair for Messina Denaro, born to a well-known Sicilian mafia boss on April 26, 1962. Among those arrested in the 2009-10 crackdown was his brother, Salvatore Messina Denaro, who refused to testify about his whereabouts.
In 2013, his sister, Patricia Messina Denaro, was sentenced to 14 years in prison, a term she is still serving, for being a member of the mafia.
While in hiding, Messina Denaro maintained several romantic relationships, including with his fiancée, Franca Algnau, with whom he had a daughter, Lorenza. Another prominent liaison was with an Austrian hotel worker, who bragged that the two had traveled to Greece on vacation despite him being on Europol’s wanted list.
Over the years, there have been many failed attempts to arrest him.
In May 2011, the police believed they were watching Messina Denaro at a farm near his hometown of Castelvetrano, but failed to arrest him despite the involvement of hundreds of officers. His DNA was later found at the site.
Adding to the police’s embarrassment was the arrest of a British man in a restaurant in The Hague in 2021, after anti-mafia police wrongly identified him as Messina Denaro.
Suspicion of him being seen in a car in September of that year led to a manhunt and hundreds of tips, the prosecutor said.