Obituary: Luciano Liggio
Wednesday 17 November 1993
Luciano Liggio was the Mafia boss who turned the small mountain village of Corleone in Sicily into the world capital of the heroin trade.
Liggio - originally Leggio: his name was erroneously transcribed on a judicial document - was born in Corleone and started out as a small-time cattle thief. He next became a gabellotto, an overseer, of one of Sicily's vast feudal estates, on behalf of an absentee aristocratic landlord, and finally, at the peak of his career, the ruler of a multi-billion- dollar criminal organisation that he controlled from behind the bars of the Ucciardone prison, in Palermo.
Liggio's ascent among Sicily's 'Men of Honour' began when, at the age of 19, he killed his first victim, the guard who had arrested him for stealing grain. Liggio's next victim was the Socialist unionist Placido Rizzotto, who had been trying to organise Corleone's peasants and opposing Liggio's property schemes. Liggio and a group of his men had confronted Rizzotto on one of Corleone's narrow streets, with the intention of teaching him a lesson. Far from being afraid, the union man had picked up Liggio and left him hanging from a gate. A few nights later Liggio's men grabbed him as he was returning home and threw him into a chasm.
Liggio's reputation as a cruel and ruthless killer was further enhanced by the bloody murder of Dr Michele Navarra, the boss of the Corleone family. With 14 of his men, Liggio set up an ambush and killed Navarra as he drove by in his car. The doctor's body was ripped apart by almost a hundred bullets.
In the Fifties, under the guidance of Liggio and other young bloods, the men of Cosa Nostra set roots in Palermo, where they conquered the labour market and seized control of the haulage trade and the construction industry. Next came cigarette smuggling, kidnapping, illegal currency dealings and speculating in property. And, of course, politics.
But it was the drug trade that made the Mafia really rich. At first the cash was transported in suit- cases, but there was so much that only a small proportion could be funnelled into illegal activities; only legitimate business could soak up such enormous amounts of cash, leading to the birth of the white-collar Mafia.
But such great wealth raised the stakes. Jealousies led to feuds and finally, in the late Seventies, to an all- out war between the families. By 1980, the Corleonesi and their allies had emerged on top, but to win they had broken all the rules. Hundreds of mafiosi had been killed as well as policemen, magistrates, politicians, anyone who dared to get in the way.
Liggio had overseen most of these events from jail. In fact, he was arrested and jailed for the murder of Navarra in 1964. His arrest had further fuelled his legend, because the police had found him in the bed of the woman who had been the fiancee of Placido Rizzotto, the man he had murdered many years before. Liggio was freed after a scandalous verdict, on appeal in 1969, only to be reconvicted while on the run in 1970. He was arrested once more in 1974, in Milan. In the meantime he had set up new branches of Cosa Nostra's kidnapping industry and drug trade in Northern Italy.
Liggio was imprisoned from 1974 until his death, and was transferred to the maximum security prison outside Nuoro, in Sardinia, in 1984. In those years his power faded and he was replaced as the Boss of Bosses by his No 2, Salvatore 'Toto' Riina, who ruled Cosa Nostra until he too was arrested earlier this year. During the famous maxi-trial in 1987, Liggio liked to appear in court sporting a gold Rolex and smoking a large cigar, acting as though he was still very much in charge. In fact, he was only a caricature of his former self. It was common knowledge among the mafiosi that Riina, who had taken over, had sent him word advising him to keep his mouth shut.
Liggio was foremost among those who brought the Mafia to the height of its power but he was also one of the men most responsible for its decline. His ruthless tactics forced many former mafiosi, terrified and disgusted by the violence, to turn informers, allowing magistrates finally to secure the convictions of hundreds of mafiosi.
Now, omerta, the code of silence, no longer prevails. The old politicians who protected the Mafia, slowing down investigations, influencing trials and blocking legislation, are dead or in disgrace. A new generation of Sicilians no longer believes that the Mafia represents a positive value and, without the consensus of the people, the Mafia cannot survive.
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