April 11, 2006

Mafia boss Provenzano arrested after decades on run

By Wladimir Pantaleone

PALERMO, Sicily (Reuters) - Bernardo Provenzano, the
undisputed chief of the Sicilian Mafia who had been on the run
for more than four decades, was arrested on Tuesday while
hiding in a farmhouse near Corleone in Sicily.

"Thank God. The hunt is finally over," said Palermo police
chief Giuseppe Caruso after agents seized Italy's most wanted
man, scoring the state's biggest success against the Mafia in
more than 13 years.

National anti-Mafia prosecutor Pietro Grasso accused
businessmen, politicians and other professionals of shielding
Provenzano for many years, but did not elaborate.

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 some 50 policemen swooped on a
farmhouse in the countryside near Corleone. Police said their
lucky break came when they tracked a package that had been sent
to Provenzano by his wife, who lived in Corleone.

Provenzano, who put up no resistance and acknowledged his
identity after first denying it, appeared surprised to be
caught, police said. He was flown to Palermo and taken to the
main police station there. Roads leading from the airport into
town were closed to traffic.

An angry crowd shouted "Assassin" and "Bastard" at
Provenzano as policemen wearing black balaclavas escorted him
into the building.

"We are the real Sicily," chanted an angry group of youths
from an anti-Mafia association.

President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi expressed his delight at the
arrest to Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu.

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.

One of the last pictures 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. More notes were found in the
pockets of the jeans he was wearing when he was arrested.

Grasso said he doubted Provenzano would ever collaborate
with the authorities.

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.

Investigators say that while running the Mafia for the past
13 years, Provenzano instituted a "kinder, gentler" style in an
attempt to give the crime organization a lower profile in the
hope that the police would pay it less attention.

They say one of two crime bosses -- Salvatore Lo Piccolo,
on the run since 1983, or Matteo Messina Denaro, a fugitive
since 1993 -- was in pole position to take over running the

(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart)