Mafia boss arrested after decades on run
By Wladimir Pantaleone
PALERMO, Sicily — Bernardo Provenzano, the undisputed chief of the Sicilian Mafia who had been on the run for more than four decades, was arrested while hiding in a farmhouse near Corleone in Sicily on Tuesday, officials said.
“Thank God. The hunt is finally over,” said Palermo police chief Giuseppe Caruso after agents nabbed Italy’s most wanted man, scoring the state’s biggest success against the Mafia in more than 13 years.
Provenzano, known as the “Phantom of Corleone” after his native hill town, made famous by the Godfather films, has been running the Mafia since former “boss of bosses” Toto Riina was arrested in 1993.
He was arrested when police swooped on a farmhouse in the countryside near Corleone. Provenzano, who put up no resistance and acknowledged his identity after first denying it, was flown by helicopter to a secret location in Palermo.
President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi expressed his delight over the arrest to Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu, a statement from the presidential palace said.
The news bumped even national election results off the top spot on television news bulletins.
Provenzano, 73, has been wanted since 1963 and was known as Italy’s “super-fugitive.”
He had been sentenced in absentia to life in jail in connection with the Mafia’s most notorious crimes of recent decades, including the killings in 1992 of top anti-Mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
The last picture police had of him was taken when he was 25. They had since been using computer depictions of how he might have aged, aided by information from turncoat Mafiosi.
Police said they had found cryptic notes on small pieces of paper known as “pizzini” which Provenzano used to communicate with accomplices and his family.
In Corleone, the news of his capture was met by disbelief. “People were shocked,” said Dino Paternostro, an anti-Mafia journalist. “His myth of invincibility became part of our psyche. Most people believed he could never get caught.”
As a young man he was known as “Binnu the tractor” because of the way he mowed down enemies when a rising hitman of the Corleone clan.
His ability to evade capture for so many years while remaining in Sicily had become legendary.
Last year, Italy’s national anti-Mafia prosecutor, Pietro Grasso, caused a storm by saying Provenzano had been protected by politicians and policemen.
Police came close to arresting him many times but he managed to elude them, often at the last minute when the net was close.
His wife Saveria and two children have lived in Corleone since 1992. For years she ran the Splendor laundry shop.
In the past 13 years that he had been running the Mafia, investigators say Provenzano instituted a “kinder, gentler” style in an attempt to give it a lower profile he hoped would take the police spotlight off the crime organization.
A new “Pax Mafiosa” settled over the island. The Mafia stopped killing its enemies — police officers, magistrates and politicians — or its own members, allowing them to breathe a little easier as they got on with the business of running extortion and drug trafficking rackets.
The Provenzano doctrine, as investigators called it, was defined by a ceasefire in attacks against the state and the management of internal dissent through consensus, persuasion and paternal largesse rather than execution.