Camorra code is cracked: Letter reveals how jailed boss still ran the mafia

Note about holidays and home-made jam was not so innocent

Milan

Investigators have intercepted a hand-written letter sent to a jailed mobster that has shed new light on the secret language that allows mafia bosses to stay in contact with clan members from behind bars.

The mafioso in question, Michele Zagaria, the head of the Camorra's brutal Casalesi clan, was dragged from an underground bunker near Naples and jailed last December, after 11 years on the run. At the time, Raffaele Cantone, a former Naples magistrate who has lived under armed protection since 2003 after Zagaria ordered his assassination, hailed the capture.

"With Zagaria's arrest, the Casalesi clan as we've known it ceases to exist. It's the end of an epoch," he said.

But closer scrutiny of the seemingly innocent letter, sent earlier this month to Zagaria in the notorious Novara prison, where he is serving a life sentence for murder, suggests he is anything but out of the loop, according to the author and Camorra expert Roberto Saviano, in an analysis in La Repubblica newspaper.

The letter, which begins: "Dear Uncle, I know that you have more important things to do than listen to me..." goes on, says Mr Saviano, to relay information about how the clan is restructuring, its activities with other crime groups, and even its contact with bent politicians. "The language is cryptic and allusive, a real construction of coded messages," he said.

Thus "the friends are going on holiday and they took the home-made jam and they say 'hi'," is probably an assurance that clan members are due for court appearances but will keep their mouths closed.

"We're all well and the children are growing up" probably refers to appointments and promotions necessitated by the jailing of senior clan members including Zagaria, who is nicknamed Capastorta, or "twisted head", in reference either to his asymmetrical features or to his violent reputation.

"At the market we filled the car with fruit" might refer to arms – hand grenades are commonly known as pineapples – or simply to lucrative dealings in large fruit and vegetable markets, which are commonly run by mafia clans.

A reference to "Uncle Nicola in his gallery" appreciating "everything that he's heard" quite possibly alludes, according to Mr Saviano, to Silvio Berlusconi's former economics minister, Nicola Cosentino, who magistrates want to arrest for presumed Camorra links.

Mr Saviano admits that despite being a leading authority on the Naples mafia – like Mr Cantone he has lived under armed guard since publishing his best-selling book Gomorrah: Italy's Other Mafia – much of his interpretation of the letter is speculation.

He suggests that the recipients themselves might not immediately understand the contents of such communications until subsequent events – such as arrests or killings – provide meaning or context.

What was not in doubt, he said, was that Camorra members used a complex system to ensure their words could not be used against them in court.

Zagaria's jailed former boss, Francesco "Sandokan" Schiavone, is also thought to have retained influence over the Casalesi clan from behind bars.

The clan, notorious for its internecine violence, runs a lucrative illegal waste disposal business and also makes hundreds of millions of euros a year from extortion, drug trafficking and smuggling of illegal migrants and arms.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
news
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower