Around twenty people close to Sicilian mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro were arrested on Thursday, according to Italian police.
“This operation is part of a broader investigation aimed at capturing the fugitive Matteo Messina Denaro, including through the gradual weakening of the criminal circuits on which he relies and the drying up of their economic resources” the carabinieri said in a statement.
Among those arrested are five local mafia leaders in western Sicily and two brothers-in-law of Matteo Messina Denaro, one of whom is also the head of a mafia family.
The case against the arrested individuals was partly built on recordings of wiretapped telephone conversations. In one of these conversation recorded by the investigators and quoted by the Italian media, a man says that there should be statues erected of Matteo Messina Denaro and his father Francesco, a “godfather” died in 1998, just like those of St. Padre Pio, an object of intense popular devotion in southern Italy.
In another bugged phone call an alleged mafioso greets the murder of a 15-year-old boy, held in captivity for two years, then murdered in 1996 and dissolved in acid to try to prevent his father from collaborating with the law. “He did well,” he says of Giovanni Brusca, who ordered the teenager to be killed.
“This operation is very important because it allowed us to stop the main colonels” Alessandro Giuliano, a senior police officer, told the press.
Since the 2000s, the Italian police have increased the arrests and seizures of people in Denaro’s entourage, in the hope of isolating the mob boss, who is known for issuing his orders via “pizzini”, small pieces papers containing coded messages left in hiding spots for his lieutenants to pick up.
Matteo Messina Denaro, who turns 56 next week, has been wanted since 1993. He is now considered the successor to the infamous Cosa Nostra leaders, Toto Riina and Bernardo Provenzano, who died in prison in 2016 and 2017.
A former gun man for the Cosa Nostra, he has already been sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for murder.