Falcone's brief promise of hope

Murder of a magistrate

Giovanni Falcone was not only the most effective magistrate ever to take on the Mafia, he virtually invented the techniques necessary to burrow into the organisation's secret world.

It was Falcone who first induced a senior mafioso, Tommaso Buscetta, to break the organisation's fabled code of silence. It was Falcone who masterminded the huge trials of the mid-1980s, in which hundreds of mafiosi stared out of cages at the back of the specially-built courtroom in Palermo as life sentence after life sentence was passed upon them.

And it was Falcone, along with his distinguished colleague Paolo Borsellino, who came to understand the mentality of the mafioso and laid bare the structure of the organisation - its strange codes and initiation rites, its values and its strategies.

In a place like Sicily, where the boundaries of state authority and mafia infiltration are never clear, the work of a magistrate is about far more than a simple upholding of the law. After his initial successes, Falcone had to spend much of his time protecting himself from poison within the system - including the Palermo prosecutors' office itself.

By 1992, he had been forced to leave Palermo and took up the job of nationwide "super-prosecutor". On 23 May that year, he was on his way from Palermo airport into the city when an enormous explosion tore open the road surface, claiming not only his life but that of his wife and three bodyguards. He was 53.

Falcone's achievement remains unique. Nothing like the same body of knowledge has ever emanated from other Mafia regions such as Calabria or Naples. There are now more than 1,000 informers spilling out details of Cosa Nostra's activities and murky links with the establishment. It remains to be seen how much longer, without Falcone, they will keep talking.

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