After 30 long years of hiding, Matteo Messina Denaro has finally been arrested. From the 1980s to 1990s, the Sicilian Mafia rampaged Italy, controlling the TransAtlantic Heroin trade and waging war against the State of Italy and anyone who stood in its way. Through complex crime networks, the Sicilian Cosa Nostra terrorized and controlled its territory. In this dense web of criminal organization, one man played a major role in its success.
Messina Denaro, the “Godfather” of the Sicilian mob, was Italy’s most-wanted mafia boss. Known for his ruthlessness, Denaro’s recent crimes include the 2020 bombings in Milan, Florence, and Rome, and the murder of an 11-year-old whose father leaked information about the syndicate. He was also charged with racketeering, money laundering, drug trafficking, and a string of murders.
Until 10 a.m. January 16, Mr. Denaro was simply a name without a face. Using only voice recordings, old letters addressed to his girlfriend before he went into hiding, and details from past associates, the police could only speculate what he looked like.
Denaro was born into a mobster family, from which he climbed his way up to the top of the syndicate. Looking at his extensive career, it’s no surprise that his recent arrest was not the police’s first attempt in doing so. In 2011, the police followed his whereabouts to a farm near his hometown, but he managed to escape. In 2021, the police arrested a British man they mistook for Denaro. So the question remains, how was he finally found after three decades?
While walking to a café, a man was stopped by police in a crowded street. They asked him one question to which he replied, “You know who I am. I am Matteo Messina Denaro.” Although he had a verified I.D. and no current evidence against him, he did not lie. Hundreds of people were arrested during his investigation and his assets were seized (~16 million dollars).
Through wiretapped conversations, police were able to figure out that Denaro suffered from a type of cancer that requires special treatment. After narrowing down patients with similar symptoms, the police identified a few possible suspects. As the list tightened, a particular name stood out. Andrea Bonafede, the name of an old Italian boss, had been booked for multiple chemotherapy sessions and even some recent plastic surgery. The police had found their man.
Patiently waiting for him, hundreds of special officers stood ready to arrest him, many overwhelmed by the emotion of finally finding the man they had wanted for so many years. “It is a victory for all the police forces that have worked together over these long years to bring the dangerous fugitive to justice,” Italy’s Chief of police said following the arrest. Yet with all the joy of finally capturing the mob boss, there is still apprehension in the air. The syndicate may have lost a key player, but it does not mean that they are any less dangerous. Regardless, Italian officials continue to celebrate their win. “This was a fundamental battle to win…[and] a hard blow to organized crime,” the Italian Prime Minister said outside the courthouse. After 30 years, a monumental victory has emerged in the fight against one of Italy’s notorious crime syndicates.