'Mafia chief' says he is just a poor farmer

A MASSIVE security screen surrounded Salvatore 'Toto' Riina, alleged boss of all the bosses of the Sicilian Mafia, as he appeared in court yesterday for the first time since his capture in January. Riina declared that he was simply 'a poor farmer' and claimed 'I don't know what Cosa Nostra is'.

He had been flown by helicopter in great secrecy on Saturday from the relative security of a Rome prison to Palermo's Ucciardone jail - so notorious for its laxity and corruption that the press has dubbed it 'the Mafia's Grand Hotel'. Knowing that he could easily take charge of the Mafia again from his cell, or alternatively get poison in his coffee, the authorities had prepared him a special maximum-security cell.

His cage in the large dock in the prison's high-security 'bunker' courtroom used for big Mafia trials was surrounded by bullet- proof glass. When he was let out to be questioned for 50 minutes, he was flanked throughout by six carabinieri and two soldiers.

Armoured military and police vehicles guarded the entrances to the court. The prison has been sandbagged, guarded and patrolled since last year, when the government began to take the Mafia threat seriously.

The authorities had been reluctant to move Riina to the Ucciardone, especially since several pentiti, or supergrasses, had described how Mafia bosses ran their clans and ordered murders with ease from the prison, where the could do virtually what they liked. Other bosses, killers, even people wanted by the police, could come and go at will, they said.

The Mafia had 'bought' some of the staff. 'It wasn't a question of money,' said Gaspare Mutolo, a one-time aide of Riina's. 'Sometimes an expensive gift, a gold watch, was enough.' Bosses would wear expensive silk pyjamas and celebrate important events with caviare and champagne. Magistrates are now investigating.

Riina, who wore the green cashmere jacket, open-necked shirt and flannel trousers he was arrested in, not only did not know what Cosa Nostra (another term for the Mafia) was, he claimed he did not know his fellow-accused in the dock. They are allegedly half the Mafia's 'cupola' or government with whom he had allegedly plotted the assassinations of a President of Sicily, Piersanti Mattarella, and two other politicians.

He also claimed not to know most of the pentiti who had described him as 'La Belva', the wild animal, who ruthlessly ordered hundreds of murders, including the magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino; nor did he know Baldassare di Maggio, his former driver, who had betrayed him and caused his arrest.

The 23 years he was a wanted man were spent, not running the Mafia and its vast drug and arms- smuggling operations, but working on building sites for pounds 136 a week, he claimed.

'All these years no one looked for me, no one stopped me, no one said anything to me.' He was not the person they thought he was at all. 'I am a poor illiterate . . . just a poor farmer . . . all home, work, family and church, as they say in our parts.'

It was the classical Mafioso's defence: deny everything.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
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
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

Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pillar 1, 2 & 3) Insurance

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pilla...

Manager - SAS - Data Warehouse - Banking

£350 - £365 per day: Orgtel: Manager, SAS, Data Warehouse, Banking, Bristol - ...

Web Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – Up to £43k

£35000 - £43000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Internal Project Manager - Business Analyst, Financial Services

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: One of the best known and most pr...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment