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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
A poster by Durham Constabulary
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Emily McDowell Card that reads:
artCancer survivor Emily McDowell kicks back at the clichés
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvBadalamenti on board for third series
Life and Style
Standing room only: the terraces at Villa Park in 1935
Ben Stokes celebrates with his team mates after bowling Brendon McCullum
sportEngland vs New Zealand report
Amal Clooney has joined the legal team defending 'The Hooden Men'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine