Mr Madonia is wanted in connection with a series of crimes including extortion, and investigators believe he could be linked with the murders of anti-Mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in Sicily this year.
Mr Madonia, 45, on the run for nine years, was seized by police in the small town of Longara, near Vicenza in the north-east Veneto region. Police knew for a few days that he was in the area and moved in to arrest him as he got into his car with a group of friends. He offered no resistance.
Antonio Manganelli, deputy head of the police central investigative unit, said Mr Madonia was one of the most important figures in the Mafia. 'We believe that Madonia is number two in the Sicilian cupola (regional commission) and one of the four or five members of the worldwide summit of the Italian organisation known as Cosa Nostra,' he told state television. He said the arrest was the result of an eight-month investigation with which several informants had co-operated.
Police traced Mr Madonia some days ago after tracking relatives but had not previously been able safely to carry out an arrest.
Mr Manganelli, although cautious on the subject, did not rule out a link between Mr Madonia and the murder of the two anti- Mafia judges. 'The case is still being investigated . . . but the indications are that the Mafia was involved and that means that the top people in the organisation must be connected,' he said.
Judge Falcone was murdered when a huge bomb blew up the highway as he drove into Palermo last May, while his former colleague, Borsellino, fell victim to a car bomb in July. Borsellino was killed together with five police guards.
Giuseppe Madonia, whose power base is in the southern Sicilian city of Gela, is believed to be close to the dominant Corleone clan.
Corleone, the town south of Palermo which inspired The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola's film, is said to be controlled by Toto Riina and Bernardo Provenzano. These two real-life godfathers have both been fugitives for some 20 years, with police having only photos of the men in their youth to try to trace them.Reuse content