The mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, one of the world’s most-wanted criminals who had spent 30 years on the run, lived in a modest apartment in western Sicily in his final months as a free man, Italian investigators said.
Denaro, 60, who was apprehended as he came out of a well-known private clinic in Palermo, lived in a small apartment inside a two-storey yellow building in the centre of the town of Campobello di Mazara, in the province of Trapani, in the heart of his territory.
“It’s a normal, well-renovated, comfortable apartment,” said Col Marco Bottino, the commander of the TrapaniCarabinierimilitary police. “He had been living there for at least six months.”
Inside the house, which was discovered late on Monday night and searched by investigators, were designer clothes, expensive shoes, condoms, Viagra pills and restaurant receipts.
A man who lived on the first floor of the building told journalists he did not know his neighbour was the infamous mafia boss. “Every now and then I saw this person, said hello and nothing else. He answered cordially,” said the man.
The commander of the Campobello traffic police said many citizens say they saw Denaro having coffee in the morning at the bar or going to a pizzeria for dinner.
“I didn’t know him. I didn’t know who he was. Why should I have suspected anything?” another neighbour said. “For me, he was a gentleman who said ‘good morning and good evening’. He always said hello.”
However, investigators said they doubted that in Campobello, a small town of 10,000 people, no one knew that the most wanted mafia boss on the planet lived there.
The apartment was owned by Andrea Bonafede, the same name that appears on the forged identity card in Denaro’s possession at the time of his arrest. But Andrea Bonafede is not just a false name. He was found by the police officers who took him to the prosecutors for questioning.
Nicknamed Diabolik or U Siccu (the skinny one), Denaro was born in Castelvetrano, Sicily, in 1962. His father was a powerful Cosa Nostra boss and Denaro thrived in the family business, building an illicit multibillion-euro empire in the waste disposal, wind energy and retail sectors.
According to mafia informers and prosecutors, he holds the key to some of the most heinous crimes perpetrated by the Sicilian mafia, including the bomb attacks that killed the anti-mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino and the killing of Giuseppe Di Matteo, the 12-year-old son of a mobster – turned state witness who was strangled and dissolved in acid in 1996. In 2002, he was convicted and sentenced in absentia to life in prison for having personally killed or ordered the murders of dozens of people.
Denaro, who once claimed, “I filled a cemetery, all by myself”, apparently maintained his luxurious lifestyle thanks to several bankrollers who, according to prosecutors, include politicians and businesspeople. He was known for wearing expensive suits, a Rolex and Ray-Ban sunglasses. At the moment of his arrest, he was wearing luxury clothes and a €38,000 (£33,700) watch.
For years, some investigators speculated he had moved to France or South America. And yet Denaro, who was once considered a candidate to be the Sicilian mafia’s boss of bosses, after the deaths of Bernardo Provenzano in 2016 and Salvatore Riina in 2017, seems to have never really moved away from his stronghold.
Gen Pasquale Angelosanto of the Carabinieri said: “It is possible that he left Sicily and went abroad, from time to time, but we believe that Denaro, in the end – like many other mafiosi – did not leave the territory in which he operated.”
Investigators said they had seized some mobile phones and placed Denaro’s personal doctor, Alfonso Tumbarello, under investigation.
Denaro visited La Maddalena clinic in Palermo at least six times in the last year to undergo chemotherapy. According to investigators, he is suffering from a tumour.
“His condition is serious,” Vittorio Gebbia, the director of oncology at La Maddalena, told the Italian newspaper la Repubblica. “The illness has accelerated in recent months.”
On Tuesday Denaro was moved to a maximum security prison in the central Italian city of L’Aquila, Abruzzo, where his cancer treatment will continue.