Betrayed by his cancer, Italy’s most wanted fugitive, Sicilian mobster Matteo Messina Denaro, has been arrested after 30 years on the run. Here’s how law enforcement captured him.
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Investigators looking for Matteo Messina Denaro had been scouring the Sicilian countryside for possible hideouts for years, arresting those protecting him and slowly narrowing the circle of people he could trust.
Members of his family and friends were later overheard in phone taps discussing an unnamed person suffering from cancer and eye problems.
Investigators were sure it was Messina Denaro, 60, who allegedly underwent eye surgery in the 1990s.
“We had unequivocal information that the fugitive had health problems (…) that he was going to a medical facility to treat his illness,” special operations commander Pasquale Angelosanto said Monday during a briefing. press conference.
“We therefore worked to identify (…) those who had access to treatment for the suspected pathologies,” he said.
Investigators knew Messina Denaro would be using a false identity, but they used a national health system database to search for male patients of the correct age and with the correct medical history.
“We were whittling down the list, ticking people off, until we were down to a few people,” Gen. Angelosanto said.
“A few days ago we identified someone who had booked a specialist visit for Monday” at the Maddalena Clinic in Palermo, Sicily, he added.
The man had booked under the name Andrea Bonafede, the nephew of a close friend of Messina Denaro’s father, Italian media reported.
Bonafede’s medical records showed he had seen an ophthalmologist for problems with his left eye, online newspaper Open said.
He had also had two operations for colon cancer, one in 2020 and another in 2022, he said.
But when investigators dug a little deeper, they found that Bonafede appeared to have been in two places at once.
Surveillance footage from his hometown of Campobello di Mazara, on the date in question in 2022, showed the real Bonafede walking the dog when he was allegedly under the knife.
When the man posing as Mr Bonafede made an appointment for Monday at the Palermo clinic, law enforcement assembled a group of 150 special operations men to capture him.
Footage released by police later showed him arriving with his face barely visible under a hat, Covid-19 mask and tinted glasses.
Once they entered the clinic, they cordoned off the area and began verifying the identity of everyone present.
Unaware of this encirclement, the so-called Mr. Bonafede, dressed in his brown leather jacket with a fleece lining, did the compulsory Covid-19 nasal swab, before heading back outside, perhaps for a coffee , according to the Corriere della Sera.
Only then did he realize what was happening. When asked “Who are you?” the Cosa Nostra boss replied: “You know who I am. Matteo Messina Denaro”.
Palermo prosecutor Paolo Guido said Matteo Messina Denaro may be undergoing treatment for serious illnesses, but “appears to be in good health. He did not seem fragile or in difficulty to us.
His doctor Alfonso Tumbarello, who is currently under police investigation, cared for him under the name Bonafede, although he had been the real Bonafede’s doctor for years, according to the Messaggero daily.
Police are also questioning other people at the clinic, from those who shared chemotherapy sessions with the mobster to a nurse who took a selfie with him, media reported.
Mr Guido said the clinic itself was not under suspicion, adding that it was the mobster’s health that caused his downfall. “That’s what forced him out into the open,” the prosecutor said.
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