A high-profile mafia prosecutor has turned down the offer of an armoured car, despite fresh threats to his life from the jailed “boss of bosses” of Sicily’s Cosa Nostra.
Nino Di Matteo dismissed suggestions he may be forced to travel around Sicily’s capital Palermo in a heavily armoured vehicle, but conceded he will have to substantially increase his security arrangements following repeat threats from mafioso Toto ‘The Beast’ Riina.
Di Matteo – who is currently chief magistrate in a major mafia trial taking place in the city – has agreed to significantly reduce his movements around Palermo, and has kitted out his bodyguards with equipment that can block mobile phones being used to remotely detonate bombs.
The revelations came during an interview with the Corriere Della Sera newspaper, who showed Di Matteo images of an Iveco Lince - the armoured vehicle Italian soldiers use to travel though war zones, including Afghanistan. The Iveco Panther - an adapted version of the Lince – is used by the British armed forces.
On looking at photographs of the Italian-made vehicle, Di Matteo reportedly said: “No way. I can't go round residential areas of Palermo in an armoured car. Please don't ask me to”.
Officers are taking threats to Di Matteo’s life extremely seriously after Riina was heard once again calling for the magistrate’s murder in bugged prison yard conversation with a Puglian mafiosi from Cosa Nostra’s mafia allies, Sacra Corona Unita.
In November La Repubblica newspaper quoted Riina, who until his arrest in 1993 was the most powerful figure in the history of the Sicilian mafia, shouting “Di Matteo must die ... they're making me crazy” while he watched television news coverage of the trial in cell.
And on Friday officers intercepted a conversation in which Riina could be heard making explicit references to murdering Di Matteo in a public area, such as an airport. Officers believe this second reference has dramatically escalated the threat to Di Matteo and should be considered a potentially viable plot, rather than an attempt at intimidation.
The trial that has so riled Riina is investigating claims that high-ranking Italian officials may have secretly negotiated with the mafia to end to a series of bombings in the 1990s.
Those bombings were instigated by Riina who effectively declared war on the Italian state after began to crackdown on the mafia in the late 1980s. Two high-profile victims of the bombing campaign were the anti-mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
Although from the outside the terror campaign appeared to fail, with the state seemingly redoubling its efforts to capture Riina, the current trial is exploring the possibility that the Italian state may in fact have negotiated with other mafiosi to draw the campaign to a close.
One potential line of investigation is likely to focus on the theory put forward by former mafia boss-turned police informant Giovanni Brusco, who suggested gangsters affiliated with Riina’s right-hand man Bernardo Provenzano may have “sold out” the boss of bosses as part of a deal to bring the bombing campaign to a close and eventually install Provenzano as Riina’s successor as leader of Cosa Nostra.
Despite being jailed for over 20 years, many mafia experts believe Corleone-born Riina continues to wield significant power within Cosa Nostra.
Discussing plans to assassinate Di Matteo on his way to the courtroom, Riina allegedly told Alberto Lorusso – a fellow prisoner and high ranking member of Puglia’s Sacra Corona Unita criminal organisation: “He’s got to come to the trial anyway... Everything’s set up... We’ll do it in spectacular fashion”.
The intercepted conversation sprung officials into life and, following a series of frantic phone calls, Francesco Messineo and Sergio Lari - the public prosecutors for Palermo and Caltanissetta provinces - flew to Rome to meet interior minister Angelino Alfano.
Speaking to RAI news channel, Lari said the fear of a mafia bomb attack could “turn Italy’s clock back 20 years”, making reference to an incident in 1994 when only a faulty detonator switch prevented hundreds of deaths during a football match at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.
The threat to Di Matteo hasn’t prevented the magistrate attending the courtroom however, with him telling Corriere Della Sera: “It’s a [typical] Riina-style build-up. Colleagues advise me not to go but I’ve followed the whole trial. Never missed a hearing.”