Matteo Messina Denaro, one of the bosses of Sicily’s Cosa Nostra mafia and Italy’s most wanted man, has been arrested by police while he was being treated at a private clinic in Palermo, prosecutor Maurizio de Lucia said on Monday.
A fugitive since 1993, he was considered one of the most wanted men in Europe by Europol, De Lucia told CNN.
“It is a victory for all the police forces that have worked together during these long years to bring the dangerous fugitive to justice,” Italian police chief Lamberto Giannini said in a statement condemning the Carabinieri – the Italian military police – and the Palermo congratulated the Public Prosecution Service.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni tweeted: “A great victory for the state, which shows that it will not give up in the face of the mafia.”
Defense Minister Guido Crosetto called the arrest “a sign of a state winning against the mafia”.
Outside the prosecutor’s office, Meloni said that while Italy had not yet won the “war” against the mafia, this was a “battle essential to win”.
“It’s a day when we can celebrate and tell our kids that the mafia can be beaten,” she said.
Messina Denaro is believed to have ordered dozens of Mafia-related murders, and received several life sentences in absentia for his many crimes, most notably in 1992 for his involvement in the separate murders of anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
He received his most recent life sentence in 2020 for deadly bombings in Milan, Florence and Rome in the late 1990s, and for the murder and torture of an enemy’s 11-year-old son who testified against Sicilian Cosa Nostra.
After nearly 30 years as a wanted man, he was Cosa Notra’s longest-hidden fugitive.
Messina Denaro was taken into custody around 10 a.m. local time after a raid carried out in the early hours of the morning by more than 100 specialist agents with the anti-mafia Carabinieri. The Maddalena Clinic where he was arrested is a private clinic known for plastic surgery and other elective surgeries. It is not known what treatment Messina Denaro underwent.
The Carabinieri news agency told CNN on Monday that he is being held in a “secret location”.
In recent years, anti-mafia security forces have cornered Messina Denaro’s circle, seized approximately €3 billion ($3.25 billion) in assets from companions, relatives and associates believed to have maintained his life in hiding, and making arrests between 2009 and 2010.
Messina Denaro – known as Diabolik – is considered one of the successors to Bernardo Provenzano, who was arrested in April 2006 while hiding in a farmhouse outside Corleone, Sicily.
Crime was a family affair for Messina Denaro, born on April 26, 1962 to a well-known Mafia boss in Sicily. Among those arrested during the 2009-2010 crackdown was his brother, Salvatore Messina Denaro, who refused to testify about his whereabouts.
In 2013, his sister, Patrizia Messina Denaro, was sentenced to 14 years in prison, a term she is still serving, because she was a member of the mafia.
While in hiding, Messina Denaro maintained several romantic relationships, including with his fiancé, Franca Alagna, with whom he had a daughter, Lorenza. Another of his high-profile contacts was with an Austrian hotel employee, who bragged that they had traveled to Greece on holiday together despite him being on Europol’s most wanted list.
Over the years there have been numerous failed attempts to arrest him.
In May 2011, police believed they were monitoring Messina Denaro in a farmhouse near his hometown of Castelvetrano, but failed to capture him despite the involvement of hundreds of officers. His DNA was later found at the site.
Adding further embarrassment to the police was the 2021 arrest of a British man at a restaurant in The Hague after anti-mafia police misidentified him as Messina Denaro.
A suspected sighting of him in a car in September of that year led to a manhunt and hundreds of tips, the prosecutor said.