Son of Sicilian mayor arrested as Mafia fortune is tracked down

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Mr Ciancimino, 43, appears in court in Palermo on Tuesday charged with money laundering and other offences. His lawyer, Giorgio Ghiron, has also been arrested. Prosecutors believe the fortune accumulated by the son and heir of "Don" Vito Ciancimino could be about €60m (£33m).

The Palermo-based entrepreneur was already under investigation but was put under house arrest after he continued with his business activities despite a ban. Treasures already identified as belonging to him include a yacht, historic buildings, a Ferrari and smart shops in Palermo.

The arrest marks one more stage in the collapse of the empire created by Bernardo Provenzano, the Mafia capo di capi arrested on 11 April and now in prison. Like Provenzano, Vito Ciancimino, the son of a barber, came from Corleone, the town south of Palermo whose gangsters, the "Corleonese", are still the undisputed bosses of the Sicilian Mafia after bloodily disposing of their rivals in the Sixties and Seventies. The town's Mafia links were immortalised in the fictional Godfather films.

In the Fifties, Vito Ciancimino, a local politician, got a job running Palermo's Office of Public Works, through which he dispensed building licences and public works contracts to corrupt companies controlled by his friends in the Corleone Mafia. This was the "Sack of Palermo", the destruction of much of the ancient Sicilian capital and its replacement with the tightly packed, nondescript blocks of flats that still deface this once-beautiful city. Vito Ciancimino, described by the Mafioso Tommaso Buscetta as "a pushy Corleonese embezzler", made a vast fortune in bribes.

Ciancimino was protected by the Christian Democrat Party and not forced to resign until 1964. He was not arrested and made an impudent comeback, becoming mayor of Palermo in 1970. He was finally arrested in 1984. When he was conviction in 1992, it was the first time a politician had been found guilty of working with the Mafia. But his fortune remained elusive at his death in 2002.

Massimo Ciancimino, Vito's youngest son, has denied all knowledge of his father's wealth, claming that his own affluence was the result of his genius as a financial consultant. "I have the ideas," he told an interviewer, "and to bring them to fruition takes money. So I find people willing to invest and so on ... The treasure doesn't exist."

But after exhaustive study, prosecutors in Palermo claim to have established a paper trail linking Ciancimino Jnr to accounts in the Virgin Islands, Amsterdam and Switzerland. And in the shack outside Corleone where Provenzano was holed up when he was arrested, two of the hundreds of notes from his underlings around the island mention Ciancimino by name. One note claims angrily that Ciancimino had stolen "money not his to have fun in Rome, money that was meant to go to the families of [Mafia] prisioners who are in need ..."

The fact that Ciancimino suffered no ill effects from getting on the wrong side of Provenzano's lieutenants is taken by prosecutors as an indication that relations between the mayor's son and the capo di capi remained cordial.