Showing posts with label Giovanni Falcone. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Giovanni Falcone. Show all posts

25 January 2024

Giangiacomo Ciaccio Montalto - magistrate

Brave investigator murdered by the Sicilian Mafia

Onlookers gather round Ciaccio Montalto's car the day after the magistrate was killed
Onlookers gather round Ciaccio Montalto's car
the day after the magistrate was killed
The magistrate Giangiacomo Ciaccio Montalto was assassinated by Mafia gunmen in Valderice, a small town near the Sicilian city of Trapani, on this day in 1983.

Ciaccio Montalto, a state prosecutor who had been involved in every major organised crime investigation in western Sicily over the previous 12 years, was a short distance from his home in the early hours of the morning when his Volkswagen Golf was forced off the road.

Three men armed with machine guns and pistols opened fire, hitting Ciaccio Montalto multiple times, leaving his bullet-ridden body slumped in the driver’s seat. Used to hearing gunshots, none of the nearby residents ventured out to see what had happened and it was not until 7.15am that a passing carabinieri patrol came across the car and discovered the magistrate’s body. He was 41 years old.

The VW’s clock, which police believed stopped working because of the damage to the car, was showing 1.12am, which suggested that Ciaccio Montalto had been dead for just over six hours.

Ciaccio Montalto was an Italian magistrate who was a public prosecutor in Trapani, known for his investigations into the Mafia’s involvement in drug trafficking and their links to the local business and banking community and politicians.

Ciaccio Montalto's work was dedicated to fighting the Mafia in Trapani
Ciaccio Montalto was a formidable
adversary of the Trapani Mafia
He had played a part in every major Mafia investigation in the western part of the island since 1971. 

Speculation linked his killing either to an investigation in 1982 that led to arrest warrants being issued for 40 Mafia members and businessmen in the Trapani area, or to the arrest of two leading politicians - a regional Liberal party secretary and a noted member of the Republican party - on charges of granting illegal building contracts to Mafia figures. 

His death did not have the same impact as the slaying of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino almost a decade later, but was nonetheless a severe blow for the fight against the Mafia in Sicily, robbing the judiciary of a courageous and dedicated magistrate.

It was the Mafia's second major strike against the Italian state in just a few months following the killing of the carabinieri chief General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa and his wife in Palermo the previous September. 

Ciaccio Montalto was born into a family of legal professionals. His father, Enrico, was a judge in the Court of Cassation, and his grandfather, Giacomo Montalto, a notary and former mayor of Erice, an historic hill town in Trapani province. Giangiacomo’s younger brother, Enrico, was a political activist who died in a car accident at the age of 22.

Although he was born in Milan, Ciaccio Montalto soon dedicated himself to the fight against crime in the city of his roots. He returned to Sicily in 1971, a year after beginning his legal career in the north, and rapidly rose to the level of Deputy Prosecutor of the Republic of Trapani.

Among the high-profile investigations he led was one into the so-called “Marsala monster” that ended with Michele Vinci, who was convicted of kidnapping three girls, including his niece, and leaving them to die in a well, being sentenced to 28 years in jail. 

Ciaccio Montalto was due to be transferred to Florence
Ciaccio Montalto was due to be
transferred to Florence
He also broke new ground during an investigation into the involvement of the mafiosi of the province of Trapani in drug trafficking and their links with the business and banking world of Trapani. He was one of the first magistrates to use asset tracing to follow the flow of “dirty money” after becoming convinced that money being laundered through Trapani’s banks was being used to fund a clandestine laboratory for the production of drugs in the Trapani area.

And thanks to Ciaccio Montalto’s work, the Minore brothers, a Mafia clan who controlled Trapani from the 1950s to the late ‘70s and were heavily involved in drug dealing and arms trafficking, as well as being suspected of carrying out many murders, were effectively driven out of the area, brothers Antonino - known as ‘Totò’ - Calogero, Giuseppe and Giacomo being forced to live as fugitives after the magistrate issued an arrest warrant for Totò Minore in 1979 for weapons trafficking. 

Ciaccio Montalto was realistic enough to know his success would put his own safety under threat. Soon after the 40 Mafia members and entrepreneurs he ordered to be arrested in 1982 were released due to lack of evidence, a black cross was painted on the bonnet of the car in which he would ultimately be killed. Unlike some high-profile investigators in the long fight against the Cosa Nostra, he did not have the security of an armour-plated vehicle or a police escort.

Disappointed with the result of that investigation and others, Ciaccio Montalto asked for a transfer to Florence, hoping to investigate the activities of an enclave of Trapani mafiosi who had settled there. The request was granted, but he was killed before it could happen.

Initial investigations into Ciaccio Montalto’s death pointed towards the Minore clan.  Salvatore Minore, in fact, was sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia for ordering the killing and two mafiosi for carrying it out, although all three were later acquitted by an appeal court. It was later discovered that Minore himself had been killed a year before Ciaccio Montalto.

Ultimately, on the basis of evidence provided by new witnesses and Mafia informers, the killing was attributed to the notorious Corleonesi mobster Salvatore ‘Totò’ Riina, who was seen as the capo di tutti capi - boss of all bosses - on Sicily, along with another leading mob figure, Mariano Agate. Riina, by then already in jail serving several life sentences, was handed another, along with Agate. Two corrupt lawyers, one of whom tipped off Riina after learning of Ciaccio Montalto’s intention to tackle the Trapani gangs in Florence, were acquitted on the grounds of unreliable testimony.

Ciaccio Montalto was granted a state funeral, conducted by the bishop of Trapani, Monsignor Emanuele Romano, at the cathedral of San Lorenzo, where 20,000 people gathered outside.

He was survived by his wife, Marisa La Torre, who would later be appointed deputy mayor of Trapani, and their three daughters Maria Irene, Elena and Silvia. 

The territory of Valderice includes mountain scenary and a sweep of coastline
The territory of Valderice includes mountain
scenary and a sweep of coastline 
Travel tip: 

The small town of Valderice, where Giangiacomo Ciaccio Montalto lived and sadly died while investigating crimes in Trapani province, has gone under that name only since 1958. It was previously known as Paparella but was renamed following the division of the Monte San Giuliano municipal area. Valderice, which is 8km (five miles) northeast of Trapani and about 95km (60 miles) west of Palermo, includes several scenic areas such as the stunning Zingaro Nature Reserve with its 7km of wild cliff top walks and the remains of a stone age settlement, and three beach areas: Bonagia, Lido Valderice and Rio Forgia.  In the town, the churches of Santa Maria della Misericordia, built in 1637, and Sant’Andrea Apostolo are among the oldest in the area. The Molino Excelsior is an old mill now converted to the Centro di Cultura Gastronomica, which every year provides gastronomic events, workshops and lessons to promote local customs and traditions. 

Erice is one of Sicily's most beautiful towns with an abundance of picturesque narrow streets
Erice is one of Sicily's most beautiful towns with
an abundance of picturesque narrow streets
Travel tip:

Dating back 3,000 years, Erice is one of Sicily’s most beautiful towns, a mediaeval gem that nestles some 2,464 feet above the sea, surrounded by vineyards in the mountains behind Trapani.  It is a fortified town with charming, narrow streets, echoing with history and blessed with a pace of life from a different age. Erice is watched over by an impressive 12th-13th century Norman castle, the Castello di Venere, where visitors can stroll around the grassy interior courtyard, flanked by an impressive stone wall allegedly built by Daedalus, the architect of Greek mythology. The castle offers spectacular panoramic views.  Erice has many churches and chapels, including the Norman-style church of San Martino, the church of Sant’Albertino degli Abbati and Chiesa Madre, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta, with its quadrangular bell tower. One of the most attractive parts of Erice is the Spanish quarter, said to have been built in the period of Spanish domination to house Spanish soldiers, a requirement for every Sicilian city.

Also on this day:

1348: The Friuli earthquake

1755: The birth of physician Paolo Mascagni

1852: The birth of explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza

1866: The birth of operatic baritone Antonio Scotti

1982: The birth of singer-songwriter Noemi


4 September 2021

Rita Atria - witness of justice

Tragic teenager who broke Mafia code of omertà

Rita Atria defied her family by talking to anti-Mafia investigators
Rita Atria defied her family by
talking to anti-Mafia investigators
Rita Atria, the girl from a Mafia family in southwest Sicily who famously went to the police after her father and brother were both killed by criminal rivals, was born on this day in 1974 in Partanna, in the province of Trapani.

She was just 11 years old when her father, Vito, ostensibly a shepherd but in reality a local Mafia boss, was shot dead by a hit man hired by a rival family. 

The killing took place in 1985, nine days before her brother, Nicolò, was due to be married. He vowed to avenge his father’s death and spoke openly about knowing who was responsible.

He and his bride, Piera Aiella, a local girl, were both 18 at the time of their marriage. Piera, who had known Nicolò since he was 14, did not wish to marry him but Vito had thought she would make his son a suitable wife, and had made it clear to her that she had little choice in the matter.  They had a child in 1988 and in 1991 moved to the nearby village of Montevago, where Nicolò set up a pizzeria.

The day he opened for business, in June, 1991, he and Piera invited a few friends to a modest celebration party. After the guests had left, Nicolò was clearing the tables when two hooded men armed with shotguns walked into the restaurant and shot him, continuing to pump bullets into his body even after he had fallen to the ground. Piera, who was standing only a few feet away with their three-year-old daughter, rushed to him but there was nothing she could do to save him and he died in her arms.

There were no witnesses, at least none who would come forward. The assumption was that Nicolò had been killed by a rival gang for speaking once too often about who he believed had murdered his father.

Paolo Borsellino became almost a father figure to Rita Atria
Paolo Borsellino became almost
a father figure to Rita Atria
By this time, Rita had become close to both her brother and his wife. When Piera - now a deputy in the Italian parliament - decided to take the dangerous step of going to the police to name her husband’s killer, she began to consider doing the same in the hope that the evidence she could give might lead to convictions for both Nicolò’s killer and her father’s.

It took her several months to find the courage, but in November 1991 she contacted the police, who put her in touch with the anti-Mafia magistrate, Paolo Borsellino. Alongside Giovanni Falcone, he had been the driving force behind the so-called Maxi Trial in the late 1980s, which had resulted in more than 300 Mafiosi going to jail.

Borsellino, a kindly man in his early 50s, listened sympathetically as Rita began to tell him what she knew. They developed a bond and Rita quickly came to regard Borsellino as almost a father figure. She and Piera, who also gave Borsellino her testimony, began to refer to him as ‘Uncle Paolo’.

Rita told Borsellino all she knew about the feuds between the Mafia families of Partanna, in which 30 people had died in just a few years. She gave him the names of the local Capi - the Mafia bosses - and those of the men who had killed her father and her brother.  She also helped Borsellino with his investigation into the murder of the local deputy mayor.

She differed from the pentiti - the convicted Mafia members who supplied inside information about the organisation as a form of penitence for their crimes - in that she had never taken any role in her family's criminal activities. She was therefore described in court documents as a witness of justice.

As a result of her testimony, the police were able to make a string of arrests and over the following months more than 30 local Mafia figures were detained and convicted.

Piera Aiello, now an MP, also gave evidence to police
Piera Aiello, now an MP,
also gave evidence to police
Despite her daughter’s efforts to find justice for her father and brother, Rita’s mother disowned her, throwing her out of the home she had grown up in. Even though her son’s killer was among those arrested and jailed, she could not forgive her daughter’s actions.  Local people looked to the Mafia to protect their community and, as far as she was concerned, it was the police who were on the wrong side of the law.

Every effort had been made by Borsellino to conceal the identity of his sources but he knew Rita and Piera were now in grave danger and both had to be relocated away from Sicily.  Rita was similarly given a new identity and installed in a safe house, an apartment on the seventh floor of a tower block on the outskirts of Rome. Piera moved initially to Rome too, although to a different address.

Rita lived almost the life of a hermit, seldom speaking to anyone for fear of giving herself away. Borsellino rang her regularly, but otherwise she spoke to no one.

In the meantime, in Sicily, the Mafia were plotting to restore their authority after the body blows left by the Maxi Trial and went about it ruthlessly. In May, 1992, Giovanni Falcone died when a bomb was detonated under a section of the motorway linking Palermo with the city’s airport at Punta Raisi. Two months later, Borsellino was killed by a car bomb  near his mother's house in Palermo.

In Rome, Rita Atria read about the assassination the newspaper. A week later, having written a note to explain that without Borsellino she had no friends and felt there was no one left to protect her, she jumped from the seventh floor window. No one in the apartment block knew her and local police took two days to identify her body.

Her body was taken back to Sicily but without the intervention of anti-Mafia campaigners there would have been no funeral to mark her passing. Journalists who had taken an interest in the story were told by the local priest in Partanna that family members had requested that he did not say Mass for her.  Ultimately a service was held for Rita, but the mourners largely consisted of prominent members of an anti-Mafia women’s group from Palermo, with just a smattering of local people.

The Castello Grifeo in Partanna is one of Sicily's best-preserved castles
The Castello Grifeo in Partanna is one
of Sicily's best-preserved castles
Travel tip:

Partanna, a hilltop town situated in the Valle del Belice agricultural area in southwest Sicily, about 60km (37 miles) inland from Marsala to the west and 40km (25 miles) from Sciacca to the southeast. It is best known for the Castello Grifeo, which dates back to the 11th century and is one of the best preserved castles on the west of the island. Its appearance is much as it was in the 14th century and it was in the possession of the Grifeo family until the late 19th century. Overlooking the Belice river, it dominated the town in medieval times, although after urban expansion it now presides over only a small corner of the town.

A waterfront view of the fishing port of Trapani on the west coast of Sicily
A waterfront view of the fishing port of Trapani
on the west coast of Sicily
Travel tip:

Partanna is in the province of Trapani, a fishing and ferry port notable for a curving harbour, where Peter of Aragon landed in 1282 to begin the Spanish occupation of Sicily. Well placed strategically to trade with Africa as well as the Italian mainland, Trapani was once the hub of a commercial network that stretched from Carthage in what is now Tunisia to Venice. Nowadays, the port is used by ferries serving Tunisia and the smaller islands, as well as other Italian ports.  The older part of the town, on a promontory with the sea on either side, has some crumbling palaces and others that have been well restored, as well as a number of military fortifications and notable churches.

Also on this day:

1850: The birth of military general Luigi Cadorna

2006: The death of footballer Giacinto Facchetti

The Feast Day of Santa Rosalia, patron saint of Palermo


18 May 2019

Giuseppe Ayala – politician and magistrate

Judge who was part of struggle against the Mafia

Giuseppe Ayala was a prosecutor at the Maxi Trial of 1987
Giuseppe Ayala was a prosecutor at the
Maxi Trial of 1987
Anti-Mafia prosecutor Giuseppe Ayala was born on this day in 1945 in Caltanissetta in Sicily.

Ayala became well known as an anti-Mafia magistrate and anti-Mafia judge. He was a prosecutor at the so-called Maxi Trial in Palermo in 1987, which resulted in the conviction of 342 Mafiosi.

He has continually raised doubts about whether it was the Mafia working alone who were responsible for the killing of his fellow anti-Mafia investigator Giovanni Falcone in 1992.

The deaths of Falcone and another prominent anti-Mafia magistrate, Paolo Borsellino, also murdered by the Mafia, came a few months after the killing of Christian Democrat politician, Salvatore Lima, who was thought to be the Mafia’s man on the inside in Rome and had close links with Italy’s three-times prime minister, Giulio Andreotti.

There was speculation that it suited senior figures in the Italian government that the two magistrates were killed because they knew too much about corruption at the highest level.

Ayala studied at the University of Palermo and obtained a degree in jurisprudence. Afterwards he worked as a public prosecutor.

Ayala participated actively in the Tangentopoli trials and became a member of both the Democratic Alliance and the Italian Republican party in the 1990s. He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1992 and served as under-secretary for justice in the governments of Romano Prodi and Massimo D’Alema.

Ayala (right) with his friend and colleague Giovanni  Falcone, who was murdered by the Mafia in 1992
Ayala (right) with his friend and colleague Giovanni
Falcone, who was murdered by the Mafia in 1992
In 1993 he published a book, La guerra dei giusti: I giudici, la mafia, la politica (The war of the righteous: The judges, the mafia, politics).

Ayala joined the Democratici di Sinistra - Democrats of the Left - a social-democratic political party, after it was formed in place of the Democratic Party of the Left and the Italian Communist Party.

During his time serving in the pool of anti-Mafia judges in Sicily, along with Falcone and Borsellino, Ayala constantly had to have armed bodyguards with him.

Now living in Palermo, Ayala had to be rushed to hospital there in April 2018 after he was involved in a car accident in the city. He had been out driving on his own, when his car was in collision with a Fiat Punto being driven by an elderly person. Ayala suffered a fractured femur as a result.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria la Nova is one of the main buildings in the town of Caltanisetta
The Cathedral of Santa Maria la Nova is one of the main
buildings in the town of Caltanisetta
Travel tip:

Caltanissetta, where Giuseppe Ayala was born, is a town in the centre of Sicily and is also the capital of the province of Caltanissette. It is the sixth highest municipality in Italy by elevation, at 568m (1,864ft) above sea level, and the second highest in Sicily after the city of Etna. The inhabitants of the are known as Nisseni. One of the main sights in Caltanissette is the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Nova, which was built in Piazza Garibaldi, the main square, between the years 1560 and 1620 in late Renaissance style. The interior is decorated with a series of frescoes by the Flemish painter, Guglielmo Borremans.

The church of San Cataldo in Piazza Bellini in Palermo is an example of the city's fusion of architectural styles
The church of San Cataldo in Piazza Bellini in Palermo is
an example of the city's fusion of architectural styles
Travel tip:

The vibrant city of Palermo, where Giuseppe Ayala lives now, is the capital of Sicily, and has a wealth of beautiful architecture, plenty of shops and markets to browse in, and an opera house, the Teatro Massimo, which is the largest theatre in Italy.  The city’s architecture reflects a history of northern European and Arabian influences.  The church of San Cataldo on Piazza Bellini is a good example of the fusion of Norman and Arabic architectural styles, having a bell tower typical of those common in northern France but with three spherical red domes on the roof.

More reading:

How Giovanni Falcone became an anti-Mafia crusader

Did murdered magistrate Paolo Borsellino know too much?

Was Salvatore Lima the Mafia's insider in government?

Also on this day:

1551: The death of Sienese painter Domenico di Pace Beccafumi

1892: The birth of opera singer and Broadway star Ezio Pinza

1939: The birth of anti-Mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone


5 May 2019

Montagna Longa air disaster

Italy’s deadliest plane crash

The tail fin of the ill-fated Alitalia Flight 112 after the aircraft broke up on a ridge of Montagna Longa
The tail fin of the ill-fated Alitalia Flight 112 after the
aircraft broke up on a ridge of Montagna Longa
Italy was in shock on this day in 1972 after an Alitalia Douglas DC-8 en route from Rome to Palermo crashed into a mountainside on its approach to the Sicilian airport.

Alitalia Flight 112, which was carrying 115 passengers and crew, was 5km (3 miles) from touching down at Palermo International Airport at around 10.24pm when it struck a 935m (1,980ft) crest of Montagna Longa, part of the Monti di Palermo range.

The aircraft slid along the ground for some distance but broke up after striking a series of rocks, spreading burning kerosene over a wide area. The wreckage ultimately covered an area of 4km (2.5 miles). Witnesses in the nearby town of Carini described seeing the aircraft on fire before it crashed.

The crash remains Italy’s deadliest accident involving a single aeroplane. Only the 2001 disaster at Milan’s second airport, Linate, when an airliner and a business jet collided on the ground, killing 114 passengers plus four people on the ground, claimed more casualties.

Montagna Longa is part of the Monti di Palermo range
outside the Sicilian capital of Palermo
Most of the passengers on board Alitalia Flight 112 were Italians, returning to Sicily from Rome to vote in the national elections. They included the film director Franco Indovina and Cestmir Vycpalek, the son of the then-coach of the Juventus football team.

By an unfortunate coincidence, the crash took place on the 26th anniversary of the very first Alitalia passenger flight in 1947.

The official inquiry into the crash blamed human error, blaming the pilots for not following the guidelines of the air traffic controllers.

However, ever since the crash a story has persisted that the aircraft crashed after a bomb exploded on board. This is based on a report from the Vice-Chief of Police in Palermo which came to light many years after the accident. The report described an explosion on board, which was blamed on a Right-wing subversive group aided by the Mafia.

This version of events was to an extent supported by the National Association of Italian Pilots (ANPAC), who doubted the possibility of a mistake by the pilots of Alitalia Flight 112 due to their long experience, but has never been officially accepted.

At the top of Montagna Longa, there is a cross in memory of the 115 victims.

Castello di Carini is an example of  Norman military architecture
Castello di Carini is an example of
Norman military architecture
Travel tip:

The town of Carini, which is situated 21km (13 miles) northwest of Palermo, is famous primarily for its Norman castle, the Castello di Carini, which was built by Sicily’s first Norman feudal lord Rodolfo Bonello, work on which began in the ninth century. Within the castle is a large courtyard and a residential structure which includes a 15th century ballroom. Carini is also home to one of Sicily’s largest shopping centres, called the Zona Industriale.

Palermo airport handles more than 5.75 million passengers every year
Palermo airport handles more than 5.75 million
passengers every year
Travel tip:

Palermo’s international airport is situated at Punta Raisi, just outside Carini, some 22km from the city. Established in 1985, the airport handles around 5.75 million passengers per year. The airport was given the name Falcone Borsellino Airport in memory of the two leading anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino who were murdered by the Sicilian Mafia in 1992.  Around 30 airlines fly to 16 domestic destinations from Palermo and more than 50 international destinations.


23 January 2019

Salvatore Lima - politician

Christian Democrat MEP murdered by Mafia

Salvatore 'Salvo' Lima was the most  powerful Christian Democrat in Sicily
Salvatore 'Salvo' Lima was the most
powerful Christian Democrat in Sicily
Salvatore Lima, a politician strongly suspected of being the Sicilian Mafia’s ‘man in Rome’ until he was shot dead near his seaside villa in 1992, was born on this day in 1928 in Palermo.

The Christian Democrat MEP, usually known as Salvo, had long been suspected of corruption, from his days as Mayor of Palermo in the 1950s and 60s to his time as a member of the Chamber of Deputies, between 1968 and 1979, when he formed a close association with Giulio Andreotti, the three-times Italian prime minister whose rise to power was helped considerably by the support Lima was able to garner for him in Sicily.

Lima's links with the Mafia were established by a magistrates’ enquiry into his death when it was concluded that he was killed on the orders of the then all-powerful Mafia boss Salvatore ‘Toto’ Riina as an act of revenge following Lima’s failure through his connections in Rome to have sentences against 342 mafiosi accused in the so-called 'maxi-trial' of 1986-87 annulled or at least reduced.

He had allegedly promised his Cosa Nostra paymasters that he would see to it that a Supreme Court judge with a reputation for overturning sentences against suspected Mafia members was appointed prosecutor, but the position was handed instead to another judge.

Giulio Andreotti formed a close
Riina ordered his murder, carried out by a gunman on a motorcycle outside Lima’s villa in Mondello, the seaside resort just outside Palermo, shortly after the verdicts were confirmed in 1992.  Later in the same year, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, the two most prominent magistrates in the investigations that led to the maxi-trial, were also killed on Riina’s orders.

Much of the information about Lima’s involvement with the Mafia was provided by pentiti - supergrasses - such as Tommaso Buscetta and Leonardo Messina, former mafiosi who turned state’s evidence after finding themselves disenfranchised by the ruthless purge of rival clans carried out by Riina’s Corleonesi family in the Second Mafia War of the early 1980s.

Buscetta and Messina both confirmed that Lima’s father, Vincenzo, had been a member of the Mafia.

Despite this, Salvo Lima was elected Mayor of Palermo in 1958 and again in 1965, occupying the office for a total of eight years. It was revealed later that during the construction boom in Palermo in the 50s and 60s, Lima and his fellow Christian Democrat Vito Ciancimino, who was the city’s assessor for public works, awarded hundreds of lucrative contracts to Francesco Vassallo, a builder with powerful Mafia connections.

One of them, a mafioso called Angelo La Barbera, had supported Lima’s campaign for election.

Lima's body lay covered by a sheet as  police looked for clues to his killing
Lima's body lay covered by a sheet as
police looked for clues to his killing
It was also established that two Christian Democrat-supporting businessmen, Nino and Ignazio Salvo, to whom he awarded unusually generous terms to collect taxes on the island, were both cousins and Mafia members.  In return, they pledged their loyalty to Lima and Andreotti.

Lima’s election to the Chamber of Deputies in 1968 as a representative for Palermo came as a surprise, given that he was up against established politicians. It was of great benefit to Andreotti, who had much support in and around Rome but no national electoral base, that Lima was able through his influential contacts not only to place Andreotti-supporting candidates in the Sicily constituencies but also guarantee they would be elected, which gave Andreotti a much stronger powerbase in the Italian parliament than he had enjoyed previously.

When Andreotti became prime minister for the first time in 1972, it was not long before Lima had a position in government as Under-Secretary of the Budget.

He became the Member of the European Parliament for the Italian Islands in 1979 but the veneer of respectability that he took to the grave after he was murdered was seriously damaged in November 1992 when Buscetta testified before the Antimafia Commission about links between the Cosa Nostra, Lima and Andreotti.

Buscetta described Lima as “the politician to whom Cosa Nostra turned most often to resolve problems for the organisation whose solution lay in Rome."

Other witnesses, including another pentito, Gaspare Mutolo, confirmed that Lima had been ordered to "fix" the appeal of the maxi trial with Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation and had been killed because he was unable to do so.

According to Mutolo: "Lima was killed because he was the greatest symbol of that part of the political world which, after doing favours for Cosa Nostra in exchange for its votes, was no longer able to protect the interests of the organisation at the time of its most important trial."

Mondello's beautiful sandy beach is largely free to use and attracts crowds of bathers in high season
Mondello's beautiful sandy beach is largely free to use and
attracts crowds of bathers in high season.
Travel tip:

Mondello, where Lima lived and was murdered, is a former fishing village about 10km (6 miles) north of Palermo that has become a popular beach resort. It has a sweeping bay enclosing turquoise water and a beach of fine sand in front of a promenade lined with beautiful villas, many built in Liberty style at the start of the 20th century as summer retreats for the wealthier residents of the city. The beach, which tends to be crowded during the summer with many stretches free of charge, also has many pastel-coloured changing cabins. The nature reserve of Capo Gallo, with its white rocks and clear water, is within walking distance of Mondello.

Palermo's magnificent cathedral has a classic Sicilian mix of  architectural influences from Europe and the Arab world
Palermo's magnificent cathedral has a classic Sicilian mix of
architectural influences from Europe and the Arab world.
Travel tip:

Although Palermo is widely seen by the rest of the world as a Mafia stronghold, visitors to the city would normally encounter nothing to suggest that the criminal underworld exerts any influence on daily life.  The Sicilian capital, on the northern coast of the island, is a vibrant city with a wealth of beautiful architecture bearing testament to a history of northern European and Arabian influences.  Typical is Palermo's majestic Cathedral of the Assumption of Virgin Mary, which includes Norman, Moorish, Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical elements.

More reading:

Giulio Andreotti - Italy's great political survivor

The supergrass who put hundreds behind bars

Giovanni Falcone's crusade against the Mafia

Also on this day:

1752: The birth of 'father of the piano' Muzio Clementi

1881: The birth of socialite and muse Lusia Casati

1980: The death of car designer Giovanni Michelotti


4 January 2019

Giuseppe ‘Pino’ Greco - Mafia executioner

Notorious hitman thought to have committed at least 80 murders

Giuseppe 'Pino' Greco was one of the Sicilian Mafia's most notorious killers
Giuseppe 'Pino' Greco was one of the
Sicilian Mafia's most notorious killers
The notorious Mafia hitman Giuseppe Greco, who was convicted posthumously on 58 counts of murder but whose victims possibly ran into hundreds, was born on this day in 1952 in Ciaculli, a town on the outskirts of Palermo in Sicily.

More often known as ‘Pino’, or by his nickname Scarpuzzedda - meaning ‘little shoe’ - Greco is considered one of the most prolific killers in the history of organised crime.

The nephew of Michele Greco, who lived on an estate just outside Ciaculli and rose to be head of the Sicilian Mafia Commission - a body set up to settle disputes between rival clans - Pino Greco is generally accepted to have been responsible for 80 deaths, although some students of Cosa Nostra history believe he could have committed more than 300 killings.

Most of Greco’s victims were fellow criminals, the majority of them killed during the Second Mafia War, which began in 1978 and intensified between 1981 and 1983 with more than 1,000 homicides, as rival clans fought each other and against the state, with judges, prosecutors and politicians prominent in the fight against organised crime themselves becoming targets.

Greco, in fact, was convicted at the so-called Maxi Trial in the late 1980s of the murder of General Carlo Alberto dalla Chiesa, Italy’s counter-terrorism chief, who was shot to death in his car in Palermo in 1982 after being sent to Sicily with a brief to end the conflict.

General Carlo Alberto dalla was Greco's most high-profile victim among the scores of murders he committed
General Carlo Alberto dalla was Greco's most high-profile
victim among the scores of murders he committed
In 1983, also in Palermo, he planted and detonated the car bomb that killed magistrate Rocco Chinnici, his two carabinieri escorts and the porter of the building where Chinnici lived.

As a young man, Greco was academically bright, excelling in the study of Latin and Greek, but his family background meant that his life in crime was effectively preordained. His father was also a contract killer, whose nickname Scarpa - ‘shoe’ - gave rise to Giuseppe’s nom de guerre.

The exact point at which he became part of the Mafia is not known but by 1979 he was sitting alongside his uncle, Michele, on the Commission, as the Ciaculli clans formed a powerful alliance with the Corleonesi, led by Salvatore 'Toto' Riina and Bernardo Provenzano.

It was on behalf of Riina and Provenzano, who instigated the internecine conflict that was to prove so deadly, that Pino carried out his reign of terror, working closely in particular with Filippo Marchese, a notorious Corleonesi hitman who ran the so-called Room of Death, an apartment in Palermo where victims would be taken to meet their fate.

Giuseppe Lucchese, who for a  time was Greco's partner in crime
Giuseppe Lucchese, who for a
time was Greco's partner in crime
Such was the nature of Greco’s work, however, that within days of organising with Marchese a massacre of nine gangsters invited to a barbecue at his uncle’s estate, Greco was ordered by Riina to kill Marchese, who was perceived as becoming too powerful.

Unfortunately for Greco, that fate would soon enough be his own, Riina’s craving for ultimate power brooking no sentiment. Greco's ‘mistake’ was to assume control of the Ciaculli mob on behalf of his uncle, who was in hiding.

Riina decided he had to reduce the strength of the Ciaculli, who lost eight members in a massacre in the Piazza Scaffa in central Palermo, and had decided that Greco had to go even as his erstwhile chief henchman was arranging the killing of another identified ‘enemy’ in police investigator Antonino Cassarà.

In September 1985, Greco invited two supposed friends, Vincenzo Puccio and Giuseppe Lucchese, into his villa outside Bagheria, about 20km (12 miles) east of Palermo, only for the pair to draw their weapons and shoot him dead. His body was never found and his death not confirmed until 1989 by an informant, Francesco Marino Mannoia, whose brother had also been in Greco’s house at the time of the killing.

By that time, the Maxi Trial, the extraordinary event spanning six years that saw the conviction of 360 defendants following the investigations led by Paolo Borsellino and Giovanni Falcone, had handed Greco a life sentence in absentia, along with Marchese, Riina and Provenzano among others.

The sandy beach at Mondello, the pretty resort just along the coast from Palermo
The sandy beach at Mondello, the pretty resort just
along the coast from Palermo
Travel tip:

Palermo has plenty of attractions in the heart of the city, but there are also some good beaches nearby, the closest of which is at Mondello, about 10km (6 miles) out of town to the north. The former fishing village has a nice sweeping bay enclosing turquoise water and a beach of fine sand and a promenade lined with beautiful villas, many built in Liberty style at the start of the 20th century as summer retreats for the wealthier residents of the city.  The nature reserve of Capo Gallo, with its white rocks and clear water, is within walking distance of Mondello.

The Villa Palagonia in Bagheria reflected the town's wealth in the early 18th century
The Villa Palagonia in Bagheria reflected the town's
wealth in the early 18th century
Travel tip:

Bagheria, a town of around 55,000 inhabitants, became prosperous under Savoyard and Habsburg rule in the early 18th century, when the first of many grand villas were built in the town.  The two most striking baroque residences, Villa Valguarnera and Villa Palagonia, were designed by the architect Tommaso Maria Napoli and have echoes of architecture in Rome and Vienna, where he had worked previously.  Villa Palagonia is renowned for its complex external staircase, curved façades, and marble.  The town is the home of the film director Giuseppe Tornatore, most famous for Cinema Paradiso, and some of the location shooting took place there.

More reading:

How Bernardo Provenzano evaded the police for 43 years

Giovanni Falcone's lifelong crusade against the Mafia

Tommaso Buscetta, the Mafia 'pentito' who put hundreds behind bars

Also on this day:

1710: The birth of 'opera buffa' composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

1881: The birth of Gaetano Merola, founder of the San Francisco Opera

1975: The death of Carlo Levi, author of Christ Stopped at Eboli


13 July 2018

Tommaso Buscetta - Mafia ‘pentito’

Sicilian gangster’s testimony put hundreds behind bars

Buscetta's testimony led to hundreds of Mafia-related arrests
Buscetta's testimony led to hundreds
of Mafia-related arrests
The Sicilian mobster Tommaso Buscetta, who was the first major Mafia figure to break the code of omertà and pass details of organised criminal activity to the authorities, was born on this day in 1928 in Palermo.

His evidence to the celebrated anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone paved the way for the so-called Maxi Trial, a process lasting six years that led to the conviction and jailing of 350 mafiosi.

Buscetta’s testimony in the Pizza Connection Trial in New York State at around the same time in the mid-1980s led to the conviction of several hundred more mobsters both in Italy and the United States, including the powerful Sicilian Mafia boss Gaetano Badalamenti.

Arguably the most shocking information he passed on to the authorities concerned Italy’s three-times former prime minister, the late Giulio Andreotti, whose links with the Cosa Nostra he exposed shortly after Falcone was murdered in May 1992, killed by a massive bomb placed under the motorway linking Palermo with the city’s international airport.

Buscetta arriving at the court in Palermo during the Maxi Trial
Buscetta arriving at the court in
Palermo during the Maxi Trial
Andreotti was found guilty of complicity in the Mafia assassination of a journalist and sentenced to 24 years in jail, although he never went to prison and was acquitted after a number of appeals. His links with the Mafia were considered proven, although by the time that verdict was reached too much time had elapsed under Italian law and the judgment was cancelled.

The route to Buscetta becoming the Mafia’s first ‘pentito’ began in Palermo, where he was the youngest of 17 children fathered by a poorly-paid worker in a glass factory.

He followed the usual route out of poverty by becoming involved with crime. He was only 17 when he joined the mob in 1945. In the years that followed he became a fully-fledged member of the Porta Nuova Family, mainly working in cigarette smuggling.

Buscetta was part of the  Mafia from a young age
Buscetta was part of the
Mafia from a young age
In 1963 Buscetta fled to the United States, shortly after the Ciaculli Massacre, which was part of an internal Mafia conflict known as the First Mafia War. His connections enabled him to join the Gambino crime family in New York, who gave him a front of legitimacy in a pizza business. In 1968, he was convicted in his absence of double murder by an Italian court.

Two years later he was arrested by police in New York who were aware of his conviction but released after Italian authorities failed to request his extradition.  After his later arrest in Brazil, however, he was returned to Italy and began his life sentence.

Eight years later, on day release from prison, he escaped and went back to Brazil, desperate to escape the so-called Second Mafia War, fearing for his life after several of his allies and family members had been eliminated by the ruthless boss, Toto Riina, including his close associate and friend, Stefano Bontade. It was Riina who arranged the murder of Falcone, as well as that of his fellow magistrate, Paolo Borsellino.

When Buscetta was arrested and sent back to Italy again he was so fearful of Riina that he attempted to kill himself in prison before deciding he would seek revenge on Riina by other means. He asked to talk to Falcone, and began his life as an informant - a ‘pentito’.

The judge Giovanni Falcone, to whom Buscetta disclosed his secrets
The judge Giovanni Falcone, to whom
Buscetta disclosed his secrets
The irony was that Buscetta was never more than a footsoldier in the Mafia hierarchy, yet always seemed to have a glamorous girlfriend and dressed as if he was wealthy. He became well connected both in Sicily and the United States.

He was therefore able to provide information about the structure, the recruitment techniques and the functions of the Cosa Nostra, providing the authorities with an understanding of the Mafia phenomenon about which they could previously only speculate.

He was the first to reveal the existence and the inner workings of the Cupola - the Mafia commission that governed the organisation and ordered the elimination of its erring members.

Buscetta’s reward was to be given special police protection, a generous income and a new identity in the United States, where he died in 2000 at the age of 71.

There are now several hundred Mafia turncoats helping Italian justice to fight organised crime.

Palermo's imposing monumental arch at Porta Nuova
Palermo's imposing monumental
arch at Porta Nuova
Travel tip:

One might imagine that an area that lends its name to a Mafia family to be poor and down at heel but the Porta Nuova is anything but. A giant monumental arch built in the 15th century and rebuilt in the 16th century, it opens into what was the Cassaro, the city’s most ancient street, which runs from the Norman Palace next to the Villa Bonanno park in a straight course right down to the harbour. The street has been renamed Via Vittorio Emanuele but many local people still refer to it as Cassaro.

The magnificent Teatro Massimo is seen as a symbol of Palermo's rebellion against the grip of the Mafia
The magnificent Teatro Massimo is seen as a symbol of
Palermo's rebellion against the grip of the Mafia
Travel tip:

Palermo’s Renaissance-style Teatro Massimo, opened in 1897, has become a symbol of the city’s fight back against the grip of the Mafia. The largest opera house in Italy and the third biggest in Europe after the Opéra National de Paris and the K. K. Hof-Opernhaus in Vienna, originally designed with an auditorium for 3,000 people, it was closed for supposedly minor refurbishments in 1974. But at a time when local government was at its most corrupt and when the Mafia controlled almost everything in the city there was little money in the public purse and the theatre, which once attracted all the great stars from the opera world, would remain dark for 23 years. However, after the Falcone murder, the city turned against the mob as never before and the reopening in 1997, with a concert by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by the esteemed maestro Claudio Abbado, was seen as a motif for Palermo’s rebirth. 

More reading:

The anti-Mafia crusade of Giovanni Falcone

Stefano Bontade - Mafia boss with close ties to ex-PM Giulio Andreotti

How Carlo Gambino became one of the world's most powerful crime bosses

Also on this day:

1478: The birth of Giulio d'Este di Ferrara, nobleman who spent half his life in jail

1814: The founding of the Carabinieri military police force


23 April 2017

Stefano Bontade - Mafia supremo

Well-connected Cosa Nostra boss had links to ex-premier Andreotti

Stefano Bontade, head of  major crime family in Palermo
Stefano Bontade, head of  major
crime family in Palermo
Stefano Bontade, one of the most powerful and well connected figures in the Sicilian Mafia in the 1960s and 1970s, was born on this day in 1939 in Palermo, where he was murdered exactly 42 years later in a birthday execution that sparked a two-year war between the island’s rival clans.

Known as Il Falco – the Falcon – he was said to have close links with a number of important politicians on Sicily and with the former Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti.

He was strongly suspected of being a key figure in the 1962 murder of Enrico Mattei, the president of Italy’s state-owned oil and gas conglomerate ENI, and in the bogus kidnapping of Michele Sindona, the disgraced banker who used the Vatican Bank to launder the proceeds of Cosa Nostra heroin trafficking.

Born into a Mafia family, Bontade controlled the Villagrazia area in the south-west of Palermo and became head of the Santa Maria di Gesù crime family at the age of 25 when his father, Francesco Paolo Bontade, a major Cosa Nostra boss known as Don Paolino, stepped down in failing health.

He was banished to the mainland, specifically Qualiano in Campania, following his arrest in 1972 after Pietro Scaglione, the chief prosecutor of Palermo, had been murdered.  A sustained crackdown on Mafia activity following the Ciaculli Massacre of 1963 had achieved significant progress in cutting off the organisation’s income streams but, ironically, the banishment of bosses in Bontade’s generation backfired on the authorities.

Along with others, Bontade made new contacts with Mafiosi on the mainland and their involvement in cigarette smuggling and heroin trafficking enabled them to rebuild their powerbase in Sicily.  Bontade became part of a network involved with the processing and trafficking of heroin from Turkey to the streets of cities in the United States, where it was distributed by the Gambino family.

Gambino family boss Carlo Gambino
Gambino family boss Carlo Gambino
Bontade’s links with Cosa Nostra figures in the US were seemingly behind his alleged organising of the Mattei killing, supposedly requested by a Sicilian-born Mafioso from Philadelphia because Mattei’s policies threatened the profitability of the United States oil industry, in which the American Mafia had vested interests.

Later, the Gambino family enlisted his help in a scheme proposed by Sindona to recover a Cosa Nostra fortune that had been lost when the Franklin National Bank in Long Island, which Sindona controlled and through which much of the laundered heroin proceeds were laundered, collapsed in 1974.

Sindona was in the US awaiting trail on fraud charges connected with the collapse, while being also wanted in Italy in connection with the murder of a police superintendent and a lawyer who were investigating of his failed Banca Privata Italiana.

In what appeared to be a kidnap, he was smuggled out of the US and back to Sicily, where he attempted to blackmail former political allies, including Andreotti, in return for the re-establishment of his banking empire and the recovery of Mafia money.   The plot failed and Sindona was returned to America, where he died in prison, apparently through poisoning, shortly after he was convicted for the murder of the Sicilian lawyer, Giorgio Ambrosoli.

Three times PM Giulio Andreotti
Three times PM Giulio Andreotti
Bontade, a freemason, cultivated a network of connections that included Christian Democrat politicians in Sicily, through whom links could be traced right to the top of Italian politics and to Andreotti, who was prime minister twice in the 1970s and again from 1989-92.

Andreotti is said to have appealed directly to Bontade in a bid to prevent the murder of Christian Democrat politician Piersanti Mattarella, who became a target after promising to smash the Mafia’s public contracts racket on Sicily. According to the evidence of a Mafia pentito, Francesco Marino Mannoia, Bontade threatened Andreotti with wiping out all of his party’s representatives in Sicily unless his demands were met and the Mattarella killing went ahead.

Bontade’s own death in 1981 came after Salvatore Riina, the most powerful figure in the Corleonesi clan from inland Sicily, formed a secret alliance with the Palermo mafioso and Bontade adversary Michele Greco with the aim of seizing control of the heroin trafficking operation.  Riina and Bontade were supposed to be allies as members of the Sicilian Mafia Commission, on which Greco eventually replaced a Bontade ally, Gaetano Badalamenti.

Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino
Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino
Riina and Greco organised the killing of many of Bontade’s friends and associates and tipped off police to arrest others, especially those involved directly with the trafficking network.  Bontade himself was murdered as he drove home from a party to celebrate his 42nd birthday, the execution carried out with a Kalashnikov machine gun by Pino Greco, Michele's nephew and a favoured Riina hitman.

Subsequently, two Bontade allies, Tommaso Buscetta and Salvatore Contorno, became pentiti, and it was largely their evidence that enabled the anti-Mafia magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino to convict 360 Cosa Nostra members in the mid-1980s in the so-called Maxi Trial. Those sent to jail included Greco and Riina, although Riina later exacted revenge by ordering the murders of both Falcone and Borsellino in 1992.

The convent of  San Benedetto il Moro
The convent of  San Benedetto il Moro
Travel tip:

Santa Maria de Gesù, which gave its name to the area of Palermo Bontade controlled at the height of his powers, is actually a village at the foot of Monte Grifone, the 832m (2,730ft) peak that forms part of the Monti di Palermo chain and was once home to a colony of griffon vultures. Panoramic views of the city can be obtained from the Convent of San Benedetto il Moro, the patron saint of Palermo, who died at Santa Maria de Gesù in 1589. In the highest part of town is the tree of San Benedetto, a 500-year-old cypress that according to legend was planted by the saint himself.

The golden mosaics of the Cappella Palatina
The golden mosaics of the Cappella Palatina
Travel tip:

By common consensus, if there is one attraction visitors to Palermo should not miss it is the Cappella Palatina, the extraordinary chapel that occupies the middle level of the three-tiered loggia of the Palazzo dei Normanni in Piazza Indipendenza. Almost every inch of the inside of the chapel is decorated with gold mosaics and inlaid precious stones. The chapel was built by Roger II, the King of Sicily, who hired Byzantine Greek artisans to work on the project in about 1140. The marble floor and walls reflect Islamic influences.

More reading:

How Giulio Andreotti, the great survivor, spent 45 years in government

The anti-Mafia crusade of Giovanni Falcone

A life of corruption and fraud: the failed banker Michele Sindona

Also on this day:

1857: The birth of opera composer Ruggero Leoncavallo

1964: The birth of conductor Gianandrea Noseda