Mafia ‘Godfather’ arrested after 30 years on the run while wearing £30,000 watch to cancer clinic had a modest home stuffed full with designer clothes, watches and aftershave – but no guns, cops reveal
- Police raided the unassuming bolthole of Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro
- They found designer clothes, watches and jewellery but no guns at the property
- The boss of the Cosa Nostra gang had been on the run for 30 years
Investigators have discovered thousands of pounds worth of designer clothes, watches, jewellery and aftershave in the secret hideout of the Mafia Godfather who was captured after a 30 year manhunt yesterday.
Matteo Messina Denaro, 60, was nabbed by police as he turned up for chemotherapy treatment at a private clinic in Palermo on the Mafia’s Italian island stronghold of Sicily and has been moved to a maximum security prison on the mainland.
Following the arrest of ‘The Devil’ who headed the notorious Cosa Nostra gang, dozens of armed officers raided a plain-looking apartment in the village of Campobello di Mazara, 75 miles from Palermo.
Denaro’s trusted righthand man Giovanni Luppino, who was held at the same time, was from the village and the Mafia boss’s hometown of Castelvetrano is just a few miles away.
Carabinieri police today stand guard near the hideout of Matteo Messina Denaro, Italy’s most wanted mafia boss, after his arrest
A source said: ‘From the outside you would have no idea that it was the hideaway of one of the country’s most wanted men but inside it was full of designer clothes and luxury items. There were dozens of designer suits, jewellery, watches and aftershave.
‘It’s all still being itemised and catalogued but it will certainly come to thousands – this is a man who knew how to live and who liked the finer things in life.
‘Officers are going through the apartment room by room and it will take several days before the operation is finished but what we can say is that so far, no weapons have been discovered.’
General Pasquale Angelosanto of the Carabinieri police ROS special forces, added: ‘We believe it is a house continuously used in the most recent period, a house that has been regularly occupied and in which we think we can find significant elements.’
When he was held at the La Maddalena clinic in Palermo on Monday police revealed Denaro was wearing a £30,000 Richard Mille watch – a brand favoured by Formula 1 racing drivers and Premier League footballers.
Italy’s most-wanted mafia boss, Matteo Messina Denaro (centre), was yesterday arrested at a private hospital after 30 years on the run
Matteo Messina Denaro, Italy’s most wanted Mafia boss who had been on the run for 30 years, was arrested. Pictured: A mugshot of Messina Denaro from yesterday (left), and the Mafia boss in the 1990s
Dozens of armed officers raided a plain-looking apartment in the village of Campobello di Mazara, 75 miles from Palermo
Inside, officers discovered thousands of pounds worth of designer clothes, watches, jewellery and aftershave
The apartment is on a quite side street called Via CB31 sandwiched between a bar and a hardware shop – and when contacted both businesses were reluctant to talk about their neighbour.
An employee at the shop said: ‘We don’t know who lives there. As far as we know it’s been empty. We keep ourselves to ourselves, it’s best not to get involved in anyone else’s business.’
While a woman at the bar said: ‘I’ve never seen anyone there. All I know is the police have been outside and inside for hours but that’s it.’
Prosecutors hope the apartment will contain documents that may help unravel how Denaro was able to avoid justice for so many years and keep one step ahead of the authorities.
Carabinieri police commander Pasquale Angelosanto said: ‘We believe that the apartment was being used regularly by Denaro the last few years and we also believe that we will find items of significance to our investigation inside.’
Further details of how he was found have also emerged with police revealing they had wire tapped telephones of his family and friends with one letting slip he was being treated for colon cancer.
Protesters demand more Mafia arrests in demonstrations outside Carbinieri headquarters in Palermo last night
People last night stand behind a banner reading ‘Capaci does not forget’ after a Mafia terror attack on the town in 1992
Messina Denaro, right, is seen in a car with Italian Carabinieri officers soon after his arrest at a private clinic in Palermo, Sicily
Officials the searched the Ministry of Health database in Rome for men aged 60 who fitted the profile and found a match under the name of Andrea Bonafede – the alias that Denaro was using.
But it was only when he turned up for his appointment in Palermo and he was stopped by armed police that they knew he was the right man after he revealed his real identity.
The 60-year-old had tried to outrun the police officers on foot and pushed his way through a series of hospital doors – but he only made it as far as a bar that was part of the same building where he had been seeing doctors for colon cancer checks.
As the officers cornered the now frail mafia boss, Messina Denaro meekly gave them his name before they bundled him into a waiting black minivan in front of shocked patients and medical staff.
Members of a Carabinieri police ROS unit outside the Maddalena clinic where Italy’s most-wanted mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro was captured by special forces in Palermo, Sicily, Italy, on Monday
Italian football legend Salvatore Schillachi was in the same clinic as Denaro when he was arrested and witnessed the police operation.
The former Italian and Juventus star – who shot to fame during the 1990 World Cup with his wide eyed goal celebrations – said: ‘It was like a Wild West movie in there. I was there for an appointment at 8.15am and then all of a sudden a load of policemen in masks burst in. They stopped us from leaving and then just charged through the building.
‘I was relatively close to the clinic bar where he was held and it was just crazy, there were policemen everywhere. I had to go outside for a cigarette afterwards.’
Denaro is now in a high security prison in the Italian city of L’Aquila after being flown there by helicopter overnight with a military escort.
Italian police say the new head of the Sicilian Mafia is now likely to be Giovanni Motisi, 64, who is from Palermo and who has been on the run since 1998 and is wanted for several murders and was sentenced to life in his absence in 2002.
Motisi is known in Sicilian dialect as ‘U Pacchiuni’ or the Fatman and was involved in the 1985 killing of two policemen where more than 200 shots were fired from a machine gun.
A composite picture shows a computer generated image released by the Italian police, right, in their efforts to track the mobster down, and a picture of Matteo Messina Denaro, left
Pictured: Police reconstructions of the face of Messina Denaro shared to the public, depicting what he could look like today as an older man, and in costume as a woman
Who is Matteo Messina Denaro? Click here to read more
The Mafia boss, who has not been seen in public for three decades, was pictured sitting in a police van wearing a brown leather shearling jacket, a white skull cap and his trademark tinted glasses shortly after his arrest.
Messina Denaro, who had a 12-year-old boy strangled and his body dissolved in acid, was taken to a secret location by police immediately after he was detained.
A trigger man who once reportedly boasted he could ‘fill a cemetery’ with his victims, Messina Denaro was a leading figure in Cosa Nostra, the real-life Sicilian crime syndicate depicted in the Godfather movies.
For a mafia boss who evaded arrest for over 30 years, it was his frequent visits to a private clinic that led to his arrest.
Messina Denaro had been sitting in the private clinic waiting to see a doctor for colon cancer tests when he was surrounded and chased by a swarm of armed police officers
A member of staff who asked to remain anonymous told local media: ‘He’d been coming here on and off for about a year. He’d had an operation a few months ago and was back for more tests and chemotherapy.
‘When I turned up for work this morning at 6am it was all quiet and then he arrived to do his Covid test.
‘A few minutes later a police officer wearing full body armour as if he was going to war came in and said he was looking for a patient.
‘He said to remain calm and that armed officers were on every floor of the clinic. We had no idea who he was or what his background was.
‘The guy actually managed to get out and ran into a local bar but they tracked him down and that’s when all hell broke loose.’
Messina Denaro was sentenced in absentia to a life term for his role in 1992 in the murders of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. Pictured: The scene of the murder of Falcone in Palermo, Sicily, in 1992
The mafia boss, who comes from the small town of Castelvetrano in Sicily, also faces a life sentence for his role in bomb attacks in Florence, Rome and Milan which killed ten people the following year
In 1993, Messina Denaro helped organise the kidnap of a 12-year-old boy, Giuseppe Di Matteo (pictured), in an attempt to blackmail his father into not giving evidence against the mafia, prosecutors say
Messina Denaro, head of the notorious Cosa Nostra gang and nicknamed ‘The Devil’ following a string of brutal murders, was captured when armed police swarmed a private medical facility in Palermo, Sicily, where he was undergoing treatment
Messina Denaro is believed to have become the ‘boss of bosses’ following the death of Salvatore ‘The Beast’ Riina in November 2022. Messina Denaro was the last of three longtime fugitive top-level mafia who had evaded capture.
As news of his arrest spread across Palermo, local residents emerged to applaud and shake the hands of the Italian paramilitary police officers involved in the operation.
The residents were seen cheering and wiping away tears as they felt a wave of relief that Messina Denaro, who had coordinated years of terror in Italy, had finally been detained.
Messina Denaro, who called himself Andrea Bonafede (meaning, ‘Goodfaith’), had tried to run from the private clinic and hide but was caught by the police officers.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni hailed the arrest as ‘a great victory for the state that shows it never gives up in the face of the mafia’.
Messina Denaro faces multiple life sentences. He was sentenced in absentia to a life term for his role in 1992 in the murders of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
The mafia boss, who comes from the small town of Castelvetrano in Sicily, also faces a life sentence for his role in bomb attacks in Florence, Rome and Milan which killed ten people the following year.
Messina Denaro, 60, who had a 12-year-old boy strangled and his body dissolved in acid, was detained by Italian police at the Maddalena private clinic in Palermo, Sicily
Local residents emerged to applaud and shake the hands of the Italian paramilitary police officers who were involved in the operation (pictured)
The residents were seen cheering and wiping away tears as they felt a wave of relief that Messina Denaro, who had coordinated years of terror, had finally been detained
In 1993, Messina Denaro helped organise the kidnap of a 12-year-old boy, Giuseppe Di Matteo, in an attempt to blackmail his father into not 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 a vat of acid.
Messina Denaro had been number one on Italy’s most-wanted list but the only known photo of him dated back to the early 1990. A new e-fit was created in 2014 with the help of an informant.
Police said in September 2022 that Messina Denaro was still able to issue commands around the running of the mafia in the area around the western Sicilian city of Trapani, his regional stronghold, despite his long disappearance.
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.
Local residents emerged to applaud and shake the hands of the Italian paramilitary police officers who were involved in the operation that saw Messina Denaro arrested
Messina Denaro also used a five-year-old girl, Attilio Fogazza’s young daughter, to run secret handwritten messages between himself and other mafia top dogs.
Fogazza, who himself is on a murder charge, said in 2016 that Messina Denaro’s second-in-command Domenico ‘Mimmo’ Scimonelli approached his daughter to send the messages.
The right-hand man had taken his daughter for an ice cream and put the messages inside her jacket and backpack.
The daughter and the rest of Fogazza’s family have been living in a secret location under police protection while he cooperates with the prosecutors as they attempt to bring down the ‘boss of bosses’ in the Italian mafia scene.
Fogazza ran a car dealership in south-western Sicily and decided to collaborate with Palermo investigators after he was arrested last December for the murder of Salvatore Lombardo in 2009, who was killed after he stole a van from Scimonelli.
‘One day my daughter said Uncle Mimmo had taken her for a gelato and put the messages inside her jacket and her backpack,’ Fogazza told prosecutors in Palermo.
Messina Denaro’s arrest on Monday came 30 years and a day after the January 15, 1993, capture of convicted ‘boss of bosses’ Salvatore Riina in a Palermo apartment after 23 years on the run.
Scene of the murder of prosecutor Judge Giovanni Falcone in 1992
Messina Denaro went into hiding in summer that year, as the Italian state waged a crackdown on the Sicilian crime syndicate following the murders of Falcone and Borsellino.
Mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano set the record for the longest time on the run. He was captured in a farmhouse near Corleone, Sicily, in 2006 after 38 years as a fugitive.
Once Provenzano was in police hands, the hunt turned to Messina Denaro.
That all three top bosses were ultimately arrested in Sicily will not surprise Italy’s police and prosecutors. Police have long said that such bosses rely on contacts and the loyalty of fellow mobsters and family members to move them from hideout to hideout, supply basic essentials, and operate under a code of silence known as ‘omerta.’
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