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Italian police arrest man whose identity was used by fugitive Mafia boss who eluded capture for 30 years

Mafia boss arrested in Italy
Italian police capture mafia boss after 30 years on the run 02:52

Italian police in Sicily on Monday arrested the man whose identity was used by a convicted Mafia boss who became Italy's No. 1 fugitive during 30 years on the run, authorities said.

Carabinieri police said that Andrea Bonafede had been arrested on a warrant issued by judicial authorities in Palermo. Investigators contend that Bonafede received 20,000 euros ($22,000) from Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro to buy a house in western Sicily that served as one of the fugitive's hideouts.

When Messina Denaro was captured last week at a Palermo clinic where he was receiving chemotherapy, he was using an official identity card with Bonafede's name but with his own photo. During the arrest, police also took into custody another man who had driven him to the clinic.

Italian mafia leader Matteo Messina Denaro (right), one of the most wanted mafia bosses, is seen after he was arrested by Italian security forces in Palermo, Italy, Jan. 16, 2023. Italian Gendarmerie (Carabinieri) Press Service/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty

According to eyewitnesses, when passers-by realized that security forces had apprehended the notorious crime figure, people cheered and applauded the police.

Police have searched at least three homes in the town of Campobello di Mazara, in western Sicily, near Trapani, which they say Messina Denaro had been using as hideouts over the last several months. It was one of these homes that was purchased by Bonafede, investigators said.

In issuing the warrant for Bonafede's arrest, Judge Alfredo Montalto said Bonafede was suspected of being a member of Cosa Nostra, as the Sicilian Mafia is known, and helping Messina Denaro to carry out his role as a major mob boss.

Thanks to Bonafede's allowing Messina Denaro to use his identity, the fugitive was "able to move on the territory (of Italy), eluding law enforcement, as well as to access National Health Care without revealing his real identity,'' according to the accusations in the warrant.

The fugitive had been receiving cancer treatment for months at the Palermo clinic as an out-patient registered as Andrea Bonafede, authorities said.

Messina Denaro had been convicted in absentia while he was on the lam of several of the most heinous Mafia crimes and given multiple life sentences. He was convicted of being one of the masterminds of the 1992 bombings - one of the attacks killed Italy's top anti-Mafia magistrate, Giovanni Falcone, along a highway outside Palermo and the other killed a fellow magistrate, Paolo Borsellino two months later - that shocked Italy. Also killed in those bombings was Falcone's wife and the bodyguards of both magistrates.

Bonafede was arrested after nightfall in a small town just outside Campobello di Mazara, according to police video footage released by the Carabinieri.

In their searches of the three houses allegedly used by Messina Denaro, authorities said they found airline ticket receipts indicating he had traveled abroad at times, receipts from pricey restaurants, jewelry and posters from films, including "The Godfather" and "Joker."

A few days after the Jan. 16 arrest of the fugitive, police found in a private parking lot in Campobello di Mazara a black Alfa Romeo Giulietta sedan they said Messina Denaro used to drive himself around, with Bonafede's identification documents, the arrest warrant for Bonafede said.

Investigators allege that the fugitive personally bought the car, used, at a Palermo dealership, an indication the convicted mobster felt a certain level of confidence he wouldn't be recognized in Sicily's main metropolis.

The parking spot is allegedly owned by the son of the suspect who was arrested after driving Messina Denaro to his medical appointment.

Investigators allege that Messina Denaro could count on a network of accomplices, drawn from his power base in western Sicily, to help with logistics.

Hours after his arrest, Messina Denaro was flown to a maximum security prison in central Italy to begin serving his sentences.

Messina Denaro was considered "Mafia nobility" — the last of three top mafia bosses, the others being the notorious Salvatore "Toto" Riina and Bernardo Provenzano, both of whom also eluded capture for decades, continuing to live clandestine lives in Sicily.

Riina, the so-called "boss of bosses," was on the run for 23 years before his arrest in 1993. Provenzano spent 38 years as a fugitive and was finally captured in 2006.   

Anna Matranga contributed to this report.

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