Mafia's 'big boss' is made to feel small

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The Independent Online
ROME - Salvatore Riina, the alleged Mafia 'boss of all bosses' who has become a television star with his arrogant declarations in court, is being cut down to size, writes Patricia Clough.

Mr Riina - ebullient, very sharp, uncannily well-informed and not a bit like the humble, subdued peasant he looked like after his arrest in January - is suspected of using the presence of television cameras at his trial to send covert messages, terrorise enemies and reassert himself as the Mafia's leader. He is also seeking to demolish the credibility of the pentiti, many of them former henchmen, upon whose evidence most of the cases against him are built. He has accused them of saying what they are told to say in return for money and an easy life.

Palermo's public prosecutor, Giancarlo Caselli, has announced he is examining Mr Riina's statements with a view to charging him with threats and slander - the latter not so much against the pentiti but against the investigators who have been taking down their evidence.

The judge and prosecutors in yesterday's hearing, evidently goaded by complaints that Mr Riina was being treated as a guest rather than a defendant, kept him on a tighter rein than previously.

At the same time, two former presidents of the Palermo Appeals Court and Mr Riina's own lawyer, Cristoforo Fileccia, are denying claims by one of the pentiti, Gaspare Mutolo, that they were in league with the Mafia. Mr Fileccia, he said, once passed Mr Riina a tip-off which enabled him to escape capture.

At the weekend, police rounded up 14 people - shopkeepers, small entrepreneurs or mechanics - said to have protected Mr Riina while he was in hiding and handled his business interests.