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Italian Mafia boss Messina Denaro dies of cancer months after capture
Italian Mafia boss Messina Denaro dies of cancer months after capture
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Italian Mafia boss Messina Denaro dies of cancer months after capture
by DZRH News26 September 2023
A screengrab taken from a video shows Matteo Messina Denaro the country's most wanted mafia boss being escorted out of a Carabinieri police station after he was arrested in Palermo, Italy, January 16, 2023. Carabinieri/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

By Crispian Balmer

ROME (Reuters) -Italian Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, who was convicted of multiple murders and was arrested in January after spending 30 years on the run, has died of cancer, officials said on Monday.

Messina Denaro, 61, was suffering from cancer of the colon at the time of his arrest. As his condition worsened in recent weeks, he was transferred to a hospital from the maximum-security jail in central Italy where he was initially held.

He fell into a coma on Friday and never regained consciousness.

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"You shouldn't deny prayers to anyone, but I can't say I am sorry," Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said on Instagram.

Messina Denaro was found guilty of numerous crimes, including helping plan the 1992 murders of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino -- crimes that shocked Italy and sparked a crackdown on the Sicilian mob.

He was also held responsible for bombings in Rome, Florence and Milan in 1993 that killed 10 people, as well as helping organise the kidnapping of Giuseppe Di Matteo, 12, to dissuade the boy's father from giving evidence against the mafia. The boy was held for two years, then murdered.

Dubbed by the Italian press as "the last Godfather", Messina Denaro is not believed to have given any information to the police after he was seized outside a private clinic in the Sicilian capital, Palermo, on Jan. 16.

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According to medical records leaked to the Italian media, he underwent surgery for colon cancer in 2020 and 2022 under a false name. A doctor at the Palermo clinic told La Repubblica newspaper that Messina Denaro's health had worsened significantly in the months leading up to his capture.

RUTHLESS

The son of a mafioso, Messina Denaro was born in the southwestern Sicilian town of Castelvetrano in 1962. He followed his father into the mob and at 15, was already carrying a gun. Police say he carried out his first killing when he was 18.

The Castelvetrano clan was allied to the Corleonesi, led by Salvatore "the Beast" Riina, who became the undisputed "boss of bosses" of the Sicilian mob, known as Cosa Nostra (Our Thing), thanks to his ruthless pursuit of power.

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Nicknamed "U Siccu" (The Skinny One), Messina Denaro became his protege and showed he could be just as pitiless as his master, picking up 20 life-prison terms in trials held in absentia for his role in an array of mob murders.

He himself once claimed to have murdered enough people to fill a cemetery.

"You always need to respect death, because unlike mafiosi, we respect life until death. But we cannot forget who Messina Denaro was, a murderer, a mass murderer who hurt his land," the mayor of Castelvetrano Enzo Alfano told Adnkronos news agency.

Messina Denaro went into hiding in 1993 as a growing number of turncoats started providing details of his role in the mob, but investigators believe he rarely wandered far from Sicily.

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Police say he spent much of 2022 hiding in Campobello di Mazara, a town of about 11,000, a short drive from his mother's house in western Sicily.

He communicated with other mafiosi via "pizzini", small pieces of paper sometimes written in code distributed by messengers, some of which were intercepted by police.

He never married, but was known to have had a number of lovers. Denaro wrote that he had a daughter, but had never met her. Italian media said the two saw each other after he was captured and that she had agreed to take his surname.

Despite his notoriety, prosecutors have always doubted that Messina Denaro became the Mafia "boss of bosses", saying it was more likely that he was simply the head of Cosa Nostra in western Sicily.

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His body is expected to be returned to Sicily in the coming days for a strictly private funeral, a government official said.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Bernadette Baum)

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