Mafia 'godfather' dies in Sardinian hospital

LUCIANO LIGGIO, the former 'boss of all the bosses', who led Sicily's Mafia from the countryside into big-time building spec ulation and drug-running, died yesterday, apparently of a heart attack. He was 68.

Don Luciano, as he was called, had been the chief of the notorious Corleone clan. Backed by his lieutenants, Salvatore Riina and Bernardo Provenzano, he had made it the dominant clan in the increasingly rich and savage 'honoured society'.

In prison since 1974, he would appear at his trials nonchalantly smoking a large cigar and sporting a fat gold and diamond ring, the very picture of a Mafia 'godfather'. It was only in the last two or three years that Mafia turncoats revealed this was largely a facade and that the real 'godfather' was the even more savage Riina, now himself behind bars.

Liggio died in hospital in Nuoro, Sardinia, where he had been rushed after collapsing in his cell in a nearby high-security prison. An autopsy has been ordered, but he had been ill for a long time and foul play is not suspected.

Born the 10th child of a poor and illiterate peasant family, his father had intended him to become a priest. But the young Liggio had other ambitions. At the age of 19 he killed his first man - a gamekeeper who had reported him for stealing grain - and by murder, cattle-stealing, terror and extortion he quickly became very rich and greatly feared. When he was 23, police found the graveyard where he hid the bodies of his victims, a deep, narrow crevasse in the hills. How many bodies are there is not known to this day, after bringing up the first three, firemen refused to go down again.

He soon became a rival to the then boss, Michele Navarra, the last of the Mafia 'godfathers' with a semblance of bourgeois respectability. Navarra sent a hit squad to kill him but Liggio survived and responded by pumping more than 100 bullets into Navarra.

Liggio moved from the countryside to Palermo and from cattle, meat and grain-dealing to the massive building speculation that turned the city into a concrete jungle. He broke Mafia taboos by organising lucrative kidnappings and murdering police chiefs, judges, politicians and journalists. Then he, with others, embarked on the racket which was to turn the Mafia into a worldwide empire and financial power - drugs.