AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis
Last month, Italian authorities arrested infamous mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, ending a decades-long search for one of the most wanted men in the world. The news was a major win for the new administration of conservative Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, and may open the door to investigating a whole slate of organized crime operations previously thought unsolvable.
Messina Denaro was arrested early on the morning of January 17 inside a clinic in the Sicilian capital of Palermo. More than 100 members of the carabinieri, the Italian military police, were involved in the operation. The career criminal, who is believed to be the boss of the notorious Cosa Nostra Mafia, has been connected to dozens of murders and various other crimes and has eluded law enforcement for 30 years. In that time, most Italians had lost hope that the man behind the deadly 1993 bombings in Milan, Florence, and Rome would ever be captured.
One of Messina Denaro’s most vile acts was the 1992 assassination of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, along with a number of police and security officers. Car bombs planted by Cosa Nostra killed both men in explosions that were so powerful they registered on local earthquake monitors.
Falcone’s murder came just two days before he was set to meet with a Russian prosecutor investigating fraud of the Soviet Union’s public finances. According to top-secret documents, for about ten years before the collapse of the USSR, $200 million worth of Soviet currency had subsidized dozens of communist parties throughout Europe. In 1990, the Politburo had allegedly transferred funds to the Italian Communist Party to purchase stakes in leading European companies.
As Falcone explained to a Russian newspaper correspondent at the time, he was investigating a possible connection between the Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the Italian Communist Party, and the international mafia, including the Casa Nostra.
The death of Falcone and Borsellino was a major setback in the effort to take down Messina Denaro and Casa Nostra – underscoring the value of incorruptible and determined public servants. The fact that Messina Denaro felt compelled to take such bold action against Falcone and Borsellino is evidence enough that they were closing in on him. However, following their death, it would take more than 30 years to finally capture the crime boss.
It was another twenty years after the assassinations before some leading Italian politicians would even admit that they knew the mafia was behind the attacks, so scared were many in the Italian government of Casa Nostra and other crime syndicates. Renato Altissimo, the former Italian Minister of Industry, revealed years later that Falcone and Borsellino had been investigating bank operations in San Marino just before their deaths. However, no one was courageous enough to follow their lead after the assassinations.
Former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti also admitted a few months before his death that it was the Italian mafia – primarily Casa Nostra – who were laundering Soviet currency and converting it into Euros. That, he said, was the core of Falcone and Borsellino’s investigation.
The investigation even reached across the Atlantic to the United States. In February 1992, Falcone provided FBI Director Louis Freeh with information on the Soviet criminal underworld’s links to an American Mafia boss. Freeh would later attend Falcone’s funeral, which became a national event in Italy.
With Messina Denaro now in custody, authorities may finally have an opportunity to continue Falcone and Borsellino’s broader investigation. While Italian authorities are hopeful that Messina Denaro can help them take down remaining mafia networks in Europe, information he provides may also reveal more about communist involvement in organized crime.
The late Italian magistrate Ferdinando Imposimato, who co-led the trial of Pope John Paul II’s would-be assassin, reflected that if the West could probe former Nazi criminals, it could apply the same rule for communist crimes. The Soviet criminals who colluded with the mafia should not be easily forgiven, and the West must dig out concealed evidence of this crime, he added.
The arrest of Messina Denaro is cause for celebration for people of goodwill and for the families of victims of the mafia. Finally, the sacrifices of so many who worked to capture Messina Denaro are not in vain.
But it should also energize people in both Italy and around the world to continue to fight for justice. No matter how long it takes, the triumph of good over evil is a prize well worth the effort.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.