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Mafia kingpin jailed for life

ROME (AP) - The Sicilian Mafia's 'boss of bosses' was sentenced to life in prison yesterday in a sign that courts are also willing to be ruthless in the campaign against organised crime.

Salvatore 'Toto' Riina remained in his bunker-like cell in Palermo's Ucciardone Prison as the judge read the conviction and sentence, the harshest punishment possible in Italy. In the past, some Sicilian courts have been accused of being lenient in Mafia cases for fear of a violent backlash.

Riina's capture in January in Palermo was one of the crowing achievements in Italy's anti-Mafia crackdown. During his 23 years as a fugitive, he rose to the top of the world's most powerful crime organisation by ruthlessly striking down foes while mocking law enforcement with an open lifestyle.

Riina was convicted of killing two brothers, Vincenzo and Pietro Puccio, in 1989 as part of a war for control of Mafia profits. Authorities had implicated Riina in more than 50 murders, including the bombing deaths of two well-known Mafia investigators who had become national heroes.

The authorities had hoped that Riina would testify against other reputed Mafia figures, as several other underworld figures have done.

But the life sentence appears to indicate that Riina refused to co- operate. After his capture, the 62-year-old Riina repeatedly insisted he was a farm worker and the arrest was a case of mistaken identity. Riina was born to a farming family in Corleone. Riina went into hiding in 1969 after serving a five-year sentence for Mafia association. Investigators believe that he jockeyed his way to the top by pitting Mafia chiefs against each other in a series of feuds.