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MAFIA

How murdered judge Giovanni Falcone shaped Italy’s fight against the mafia

Thirty years ago, the murders of anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino shook Italy and inspired a new generation of anti-mafia crusaders. But judges today warn that the same threat still exists.

How murdered judge Giovanni Falcone shaped Italy's fight against the mafia
Italian judge Roberto Di Bella, flanked by two bodyguards, on a ferry crossing the Messina strait on July 7, 2020. Threats to judges' lives continue today, 30 years after the infamous murders of Falcone and Borsellino. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

When anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone was killed by a car bomb 30 years ago in one of Italy’s most infamous murders, his death – and that two months later of fellow magistrate Paolo Borsellino – marked a sea change in the fight against organised crime, prosecutors say.

“It was war and we all felt called up. No-one could afford to look away any longer,” says Palermo prosecutor, Marzia Sabella, remembering the murder of Falcone, his wife and bodyguards by the notorious Cosa Nostra mafia in Sicily on May 23, 1992.

READ ALSO: Italy marks 30-year anniversary of anti-mafia judge murder

The murders inspired a new generation of anti-mafia crusaders who, decades on, risk their own lives daily to carry on Falcone’s and Borsellino’s fight.

Sabella, then 27, was training to become a notary but after the massacre in Capaci, a small town in the province of Palermo, “I suddenly swerved off course towards Palermo’s prosecutors’ office”, she told AFP. “I have never regretted it.”

The deaths of Falcone and Borsellino stunned the country and resulted in tough new anti-mafia laws.

The judges were attributed with revolutionising the understanding of the mafia, working closely with the first informants and compiling evidence to prosecute hundreds of mobsters at the end of the 1980s in a groundbreaking ‘maxi trial’ – with similar trials involving hundreds of defendants still being carried out today.

“Thanks to Falcone and Borsellino, the Sicilian mafia became a notorious fact, not something that had to be proved to exist at every trial,” Sabella said.

Giovanni Falcone (2nd left) surrounded by his bodyguards on October 21st, 1986. Photo by GERARD FOUET / AFP

Judge Roberto Di Bella – who obtained his first posting the day before Borsellino and his police escort were blown to pieces on July 19, 1992 – said the murders “prompted nationwide protests… and a decisive cultural change”.

The 58-year-old, now a judge at the juvenile court in Catania, was assigned an armed escort in 2016 after threats to his life, “which was very difficult, particularly at the start”.

The mob felt able to target Falcone because he was perceived to be isolated after being snubbed for the post of chief magistrate in Palermo in 1988, according to judges, who warn of repeating the same mistakes today.

Those concerns prompted a backlash this month over the failure to name Nicola Gratteri, Italy’s foremost ‘Ndrangheta combatant, as national chief anti-mafia prosecutor.

Choosing someone else “would come across as a dangerous institutional distancing from such an exposed magistrate in the eyes of the mafia”, judge Nino Di Matteo argued before the vote.

It risked creating “the conditions for isolation, the most fertile ground for murders and massacres”, he warned.

READ ALSO: The life and death of Sicilian anti-mafia judge Paolo Borsellino

Giovanni Melillo, an institutional favourite from Foggia, home to Italy’s fourth-largest mafia, was picked instead.

Security services have reportedly just stumbled across fresh plans to assassinate Gratteri, who has been under police guard for 30 years.

Amid fears that not enough is being done, a trade union called last week for a “civilian escort” to help protect and support him.

Falcone’s murder was just one of a string of deadly attacks which abruptly stopped in 1993.

Since then, the Cosa Nostra has been hit repeatedly by mass arrests – but though it has lost much of its power, it is far from vanquished.

And while investigators concentrated on Sicily, other underworld groups flourished, most notably the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta.

Sabella compared the mafia to coronavirus: “If you drop your guard it spreads like before or worse than before.

“If we dropped our guard even for just one month, we’d have to start all over again, collecting the dead from the streets.”

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CRIME

Italian killer with mafia links arrested in France after 16 years on the run

A convicted murderer linked to one of Italy's most powerful mafia organisations was arrested on Thursday in central France, Interpol said.

Italian killer with mafia links arrested in France after 16 years on the run

Edgardo Greco, 63, is suspected of belonging to the notorious ‘Ndrangheta, a powerful mafia organisation in Calabria, southern Italy.

He is wanted in Italy to serve a life sentence for the murders of Stefano and Giuseppe Bartolomeo, and accused of the attempted murder of Emiliano Mosciaro “as part of a mafia war between the Pino Sena and Perna Pranno gangs that marked the early 1990s”, Interpol said.

The Bartolomeo brothers were beaten to death with iron bars in a fish warehouse, Italian police said.

Greco’s arrest in central France came with help for Italy and France from the “Cooperation against ‘Ndrangheta Project” (I-CAN) run by Interpol, which facilitates police cooperation between its 195 member states.

READ ALSO: Italian police seize €250 million and arrest 56 in latest mafia blitz

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi, quoted in Interpol’s statement, said the arrests demonstrated his country’s commitment to “fighting all forms of organised crime and locating dangerous fugitives”.

The ‘Ndrangheta is considered Italy’s most extensive and powerful mafia group, Interpol said, operating worldwide and with strong ties to the trade in cocaine bound for Europe from South America

I-CAN’s job is help raise awareness of ‘Ndrangheta and their modus operandi, sharing police information to dismantle their networks and operations, the agency said.

The arrest of Greco, who worked in the evenings in a pizza restaurant under an assumed named according to Italian media, came a week after Italian police said it had dismantled a ‘Ndrangheta mafia ring dominating a large area of southern Calabria and seized assets exceeding 250 million euros.

Fifty-six people, many already in prison, were put under criminal investigation for a series of crimes including mafia-related conspiracy, extortion, kidnapping, bribery and possession of weapons, police and prosecutors said.

The arrest of Greco comes just over two weeks after Italian police arrested one of the most notorious bosses of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra mafia, Matteo Messina Denaro, who had been on the run for 30 years.

The 60-year-old was arrested after visiting a health clinic where he was being treated in the Sicilian capital Palermo

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