Police close in on ageing Mafia don

ANTI-MAFIA investigators say they are tightening the noose around one of Italy's most powerful and mysterious bosses, Bernardo Provenzano. Although he has been in hiding for three decades, many believe he has never left his native Sicily.

A massive police operation failed two years ago when the police's crucial informer, a Mafia turncoat, was murdered.

But now the carabinieri have struck once more against the ageing Mafia don. Police revealed yesterday that their operation, codenamed Orient, led to more than 50 arrest warrants in Sicily last week for leading Mafiosi accused of protecting Provenzano and included businessmen thought to have been in league with him.

The blitz followed a two-year inquiry into his activities by magistrates in Palermo, Catania, Caltanisetta and Messina.

The investigation began with the information of Luigi Ilardo, a Mafia turncoat and the man who led investigators temptingly close to their target. An hour before he was due to meet his minder in May 1996 Ilardo was gunned down.

But before he was killed he had already handed over a dozen precious letters written by Provenzano between 1994 and 1995.

The notes, full of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, were examined by graphologists for their authenticity, and by psychologists to try to penetrate the mind of the man known as "the tractor". They proved a goldmine of information for police.

In the letters, Provenzano advised fellow Mafiosi on what strategy they should adopt to win lucrative contracts in construction and urged individual bosses to seek compromises with rival clans, telling them not to bother him with petty squabbles. He sent quotes from the Bible and kisses to the children of other known bosses.

Investigators say the correspondence proves that Provenzano is firmly in control of the Mafia's drug-running operations, extortion rackets and money laundering activities and that he took overall control of all the Sicilian Mafia families after the arrest in 1993 of the so-called "boss of bosses", Toto Riina. The letters suggest that Provenzano led a supposedly "moderate" wing of Cosa Nostra, which opposed launching full-frontal attacks on the Italian state, including the murders of Judge Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992. The moderates preferred more subtle tactics to keep their business empires intact.

The letters also gave investigators details of Provenzano's movements on the island of Sicily, which are especially valuable as they have little hope of spotting their prey.

The only photograph the police possess of Provenzano dates back to 1959. It shows a fair, clean-cut young man with his hair slicked back, gazing frankly at the camera.

A new "computer-aged" version was released in June, but judging from the marked difference between other recently arrested bosses and their photofits, investigators are essentially working blind.

To capture Provenzano would be the ultimate accolade for many senior officers close to retirement and a guarantee of promotion for younger, dynamic Mafia-busters.

General Mario Mori, head of the carabinieri special squad, is convinced they will eventually capture their man. "I have learnt to be patient through fighting the Mafia and its men, who more than anyone else have the virtue of patience," he said.

The hunt for the last great Mafia boss has ruined the careers of some of the police, partly due to the intense rivalry between the various anti- Mafia operations. Colonel Michele Riccio, who ran the informer Ilardo and hoped he would bring him to Provenzano, has since been suspended after being accused of possession of drugs and irresponsible management of his informers.

Suggested Topics
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Java Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a...

SAP Functional Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £45,000 - £55,000.

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Functional ...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn