Mobster's Sicily villa handed to the media

The keys of the Sicilian villa where the notorious Mafia godfather Toto "the Beast" Riina spent his final months as a fugitive have been handed over to the local branch of the Italian journalists' guild, several of whose members died under his bloody rein.

The gift is the latest from the national agency that confiscates mob assets and hands them over to deserving causes. Sicilian journalist leaders immediately dedicated their new headquarters to colleagues who were killed for exposing the activities of the Mob.

"This will become our home," said the head of the Sicilian branch of the national journalists' guild, Franco Nicastro. "It will be an outpost of legality and a memorial to slain journalists."

The Italian state has been steadily seizing and redistributing the assets of jailed mafiosi for many years. Under law introduced in 1996, the state automatically assumes ownership of goods and property of those convicted of serious Mafia-related crime. The state then allows assets such as property to be used by other groups, as with the Sicilian journalists, or sometimes the assets are sold off at auction.

The process was stepped up recently when ministers launched a new agency to co-ordinate confiscations. The organisation is based in Reggio Calabria, in Calabria, a region with a powerful crime syndicate of its own, the 'Ndrangheta.

Riina, the architect of a bombing campaign that killed 20 people including anti-Mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992-1993, was arrested outside the Palermo villa in 1993 after 23 years on the run.

One of his associates' properties was handed over to the Addiopizzo movement, which campaigns against Mafia extortion rackets in Sicily.

Addiopizzo spokeswoman Veronica Chisari said: "Giving the villa to the journalists' guild is an important sign, because many lost their lives doing their job here."