Messina Denaro arrest: Italy’s most-wanted mafia boss's notorious crimes

The 60-year-old faces multiple life sentences

Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro soon after his arrest at a private clinic in Palermo, Sicily. AP
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Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, Italy’s most wanted person, was arrested on Monday after 30 years on the run.

A ruthless operator who once reportedly boasted he could “fill a cemetery” with his victims, the 60-year-old was a leading figure in Cosa Nostra, the real-life Sicilian crime syndicate depicted in the Godfather movies.

He was arrested at a clinic in Sicily where he was receiving treatment for an undisclosed medical condition, although reports suggest he had been having periodic treatment for colon cancer under a false name.

His first words to police were “I'm Matteo Messina Denaro”, the ANSA news agency reported. He did not resist arrest.

Denaro comes from the small town of Castelvetrano near Trapani in western Sicily, and is the son of a mafia boss.

Police said last September that he was still able to issue commands relating to the way the mafia was run in the area around Trapani, his regional stronghold.

Before he went into hiding, he was known for driving expensive cars and his taste for wearing finely tailored suits and Rolex watches.

The last of three longtime fugitive top-level Mafia bosses, who had for decades eluded capture, he went into hiding as a young man.

Hundreds of police officers have been tasked with tracking him down over the years.

The Cosa Nostra top boss was tried and convicted in absentia of dozens of murders and faces multiple life sentences.


His crimes include two bombings in Sicily in 1992 that killed top anti-Mafia prosecutors, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, Falcone’s wife and several of their bodyguards.

He faces another life sentence for his role in bomb attacks in Florence, Rome and Milan that killed 10 people in 1993.

And he is accused by prosecutors of being solely or jointly responsible for numerous other murders in the 1990s.

In 1993 Denaro helped organise the kidnapping of a 12-year-old boy, Giuseppe Di Matteo, in an attempt to dissuade his father from giving evidence against the mafia, prosecutors say. The boy was held in captivity for two years before he was strangled and his body dissolved in acid.

He also strangled a woman while she was pregnant, according to Italian media.

Denaro, who had a power base in the port city of Trapani, in western Sicily, was considered Sicily’s Cosa Nostra top boss even while a fugitive.

During his years on the run, he had a series of lovers and passed time by playing video games, according to Italian media reports.

In 2015, police discovered he was communicating with his closest collaborators via the pizzini system, where tiny, folded paper notes were left under a rock at a farm in Sicily.

Investigators spent decades searching the homes and businesses of the boss's known allies on the island.

They looked in particular for hiding places in grottoes, caverns or even bunkers inside buildings where the man nicknamed “Diabolik” could be concealed.

Updated: January 16, 2023, 1:38 PM