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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Meet the boss of Italy's biggest business: The ruthless don running the £115billion mafia



Matteo Messina Denaro
Matteo Messina Denaro 

He's the boss of Italy’s biggest business – but he’s not your run-of-the-mill chief executive.
Worth an estimated £2.5billion, Matteo Messina Denaro loves fast cars, designer watches and sharp suits. But 49-year-old Denaro is also a cold-blooded murderer whose ruthless streak has helped him rise to the very summit of the Italian Mafia.
Now known as the Don of Dons, he is believed to have personally executed at least 50 people and ordered the deaths of scores more. He has been on the run since 1993 and has chillingly boasted: “I filled a cemetery all by myself.”
This week the Mafia was described in an Italian financial report as the country’s richest “firm”, with a turnover of more than £116billion a year.
Already well known for its criminal involvement in drugs and violence, the feared Cosa Nostra has now worked its way into almost every corner of Italian life. And at the very summit is Denaro, who took over as the Godfather after the arrest of previous boss Bernardo Provenzano five years ago.
A video games addict, Denaro is a notorious womaniser who revels in the high life, with an extensive collection of Porsches.
He is one of the world’s top 10 most wanted criminals and yet, incredibly, all police have to go on is a black and white photograph taken more than 20 years ago.
Giacomo Di Girolamo, author of The Invisible, a book on the mobster, says: “Denaro is a modern Mafia boss, the opposite of the traditional image of the Godfather.
“He has numerous lovers and a child out of marriage. He knows which businesses to get involved in – and this is primarily drugs.”
Denaro has steadily built up his empire through lucrative deals with Colombian drug barons.
The FBI view him as the Mafia’s main connection with the South American cartels, masterminding the import of heroin and cocaine into Europe through his control of the Mafia and its network of families. Drugs make up a massive proportion of the extraordinary £80billion a year profit said to be earned by the various Mafia groups across the country – equivalent to 7% of the Italy’s GDP.
But an Italian business report published this week shows how the Mafia’s reach has extended far beyond drugs and violence.
Entitled Criminality’s Grip on Business, it states that a conventional business or commercial activity in Italy is directly affected by organised crime “every single minute of the day”.
Marco Venturi, president of business group Confesercenti which published the report, describes the Mafia as “the biggest bank in the country’’ with liquid assets of more than £65billion.
Thanks to extortion and intimidation, millions are handed over in protection money by shopkeepers, restaurant owners, cinemas, construction firms and thousands of other businesses.
A police officer shows a computer generated image of Mafia top boss contender Matteo Messina Denaro
A police officer shows an image of Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro

The Mafia are also cashing in on the economic crisis, acting as loan sharks and charging extortionate interest rates to businesses unable to raise funds. As a result, more than 190,000 firms have had to shut in the last three years.
Di Girolamo said: “Although narcotics are still the backbone of Mafia money, the Confesercenti report shows just how the Mafia has attached itself like a leech on to the Italian economy, bleeding it dry of billions of euros every year.
“All aspects of the economy are touched by the hand of organised crime and they use fear and extortion to exercise their control on thousands of Italian businesses and landowners as well.’’
Denaro, whose dad was also a Mafia godfather, has used this tactic to line his own pockets on an unimaginable scale.
But first he had to show his own worth to the organisation, committing his first murder when he was just 18.
He cemented his bloodthirsty reputation during a 1993 bombing campaign which targeted museums and churches across the country and which left 10 people dead and 93 injured.
The campaign was masterminded by Denaro after authorities cracked down on convicted mobsters with the rule 41.
This restricted family visiting time and also limited recreation periods and contact with other prisoners.
The authorities have since relaxed several of the conditions over the years – prompting speculation that secret deals have taken place with the Mafia. Again in 1993, Denaro shot dead rival mobster Vincenzo Milazzo. After he had executed him, he calmly turned to his rival’s pregnant girlfriend and strangled her.
Five years ago, Denaro took over from Provenzano, who had been on the run for an amazing 43 years before his capture and arrest for multiple murders.
Di Girolamo said: “Denaro is without doubt a very powerful and ruthless man who will stop at nothing to ensure he has utmost control of his territory.”
Aftermath of a mafia car bomb in Italy, 1984
Aftermath of a Mafia car bomb in Italy, 1984

Under Denaro’s leadership, the Sicilian mob has since expanded into previously uncharted territory.
Di Girolamo explains how it has worked its way into the lucrative field of alternative energy, exploiting the building of wind and solar power farms across the sun-drenched island.
Land is bought from desperate landowners at a fraction of its true value and then sold on at a huge profit to developers wanting to build renewable energy farms.
The European Union has even handed out millions in grants to help with their construction.
In September 2010 the extent of Denaro’s influence was revealed when police seized assets worth £1.25billion from Sicilian businessman Vito Nicastri, nicknamed the God of Wind.
He had invested in wind and solar farms to help launder Mafia money.
It was hailed as the “biggest ever seizure of assets linked to Denaro”.
Di Girolamo says: “The ridiculous aspect of these wind and solar farms is that they have never even been connected to the energy grid so they are sitting there doing nothing.
“Sicily is dotted with these giant windmills and solar panels – all doing nothing but laundering mob money.’’ In the latest police offensive against Denaro, building firms, cement companies, houses and shops worth around £455million were also confiscated. Supermarkets – one of the Mafia’s main outlets for money laundering – were also seized.
But the forced closure of many branches angered many locals, who see Denaro as their benefactor.
Di Girolamo says: “Many see Denaro as a provider for them – they have jobs in the supermarkets and distribution centres which the Mafia have built and use for money laundering.
"The problem is many people in Sicily feel they have been abandoned by the Italian state and see Denaro as a heavenly provider. He has given them jobs and money where the state has given them nothing so that’s why many are attracted to the Mafia.’’
This also goes a long way to explain how Denaro has stayed one step ahead of the law for almost two decades.
Nicknamed Diabolik after an Italian comic strip character, Denaro remains a secretive and shadowy figure.
An old black and white snapshot of him from around 20 years ago is all the police have got. In a bid to track him down they have been forced to use a special computer program to age his image.
But they privately admit this may be of very little use as he is believed to have had extensive plastic surgery.
He could also be in danger from rival members of the Mafia. Vittorio Bevilacqua, 64, was shot dead in 2005 by what was believed to be a rival faction. And in 2007 Nicolo Ingarao met a similar fate.
Di Girolamo is convinced Denaro has politicians and police officers on his pay roll. He says: “How else do you explain the fact that Denaro has been on the run for almost 20 years? He has a network of allies and is always on the move – I doubt he is abroad. If he left his home territory then it would be a sign of weakness and he could lose his grip.
“I am certain that senior figures within Italian politics and the police are doing their utmost to keep him in hiding.
“But as with any rat on the run, he will eventually be caught.’’

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2012/01/14/meet-the-boss-of-italy-s-biggest-business-the-ruthless-don-running-the-115billion-mafia-115875-23698278/


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