JAKARTA - Long being hunted by the Italian authorities, the arrest of Sicilian mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro in a clinic while undergoing medical treatment for cancer has attracted attention because of his series of actions, with the Italian Prime Minister calling it a story that could be told if the mafia could be defeated.
The arrest of Messina Denaro dealt a powerful blow to the mythology of Cosa Nostra, toppling symbols of the group's resistance to police efforts to crack down on organized crime.
Messina Denaro (60) is Italy's most wanted mafia boss and has been on the run for three decades. While hunting for him, Italian investigators were able to find out his preferences for wearing designer clothes, expensive glasses, Rolex watches, video games and liking luxury food. However, investigators had no idea where he was.
His arrest comes nearly 30 years after police arrested Salvatore "Toto" Riina, Cosa Nostra's greatest figure in the 20th century, marking the final step in efforts to dismantle the leadership of the group's historic clan.
"This is a day of celebration when we can tell our children that the mafia can be defeated," said Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who flew directly to Sicily when news of the arrests broke, underscoring the importance of the arrests.
Experts describe Cosa Nostra, whose fame was strengthened by films such as "The Godfather", as an ailing criminal group facing several difficulties, including competition in the highly lucrative drug market.
Although Cosa Nostra retains control of the Sicilian region and the ability to infiltrate the wider economy, it has been supplanted by groups such as the 'Ndrangheta of Calabria in the drug trade.
"Messina Denaro is the ultimate godfather, she represents all the secrets of Cosa Nostra. This is the end of a myth and the organization must overcome this," said Anna Sergi, an expert on organized crime at Britain's University of Essex.
Sergi said it was unclear who would replace Messina Denaro in the now more divided mafia.
"If Cosa Nostra wants to rebuild the leadership it had in the past, it needs direction, but there are no big leaders anymore," Sergi told Reuters, adding that he expected the group to try to rebuild ties with clans in the United States.
Born in Castelvetrano, Western Sicily in 1962, Messina Denaro followed in the footsteps of her mafioso father and took up arms at the age of 15. Police believe he committed his first murder when he was 18 years old.
The Castelvetrano clan is allied with the Corleonesi, led by Salvatore "the Beast" Riina, who became the undisputed "boss of bosses" thanks to his ruthless pursuit of power.
Nicknamed 'U Siccu' (The Slenderman), Messina Denaro became his protégé and showed he could be as ruthless as his master, being sentenced to 20 life sentences in prison in a trial held in absentia for his role in a series of mass killings.
Details of his crimes surfaced in many court hearings. For example, police say he was deeply involved in planning the 1992 murders of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino – a shocking crime that sparked the crackdown that led to Riina's arrest in 1993.
Messina Denaro went into hiding in 1993 when more and more traitors began providing details about his role.
Despite her 'stardom', prosecutors have always doubted Messina Denaro of being a "boss of bosses" after Provenzano's arrest, saying she was most likely just the head of Cosa Nostra in western Sicily.
Nonetheless, the fact that she has managed to evade capture for so many years suggests Messina Denaro has a loyal and ferocious following.
"We haven't won the war, we haven't defeated the mafia, but this battle is a key battle to win, and it is a heavy blow to organized crime," said PM Meloni.
As previously reported, the most wanted Italian mafia boss since 1993 Matteo Messina Denaro, was arrested by armed police at a private hospital in Sicily on Monday, while undergoing treatment for cancer.
Messina Denaro was taken away from Palermo's "La Maddalena" hospital by carabinieri police in a waiting black minivan. He wore a brown fur-lined jacket, glasses and a brown and white wool hat. Judicial sources said he was treated for cancer and underwent surgery last year, followed by a series of treatments under a false name.
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