May 2, 2006

Mafia’s “boss of bosses” on trial for murder

By Wladimir Pantaleone

PALERMO, Sicily (Reuters) - The Mafia's "boss of bosses"
went on trial on Tuesday via a video-link from a high-security
prison three weeks after his arrest ended 43 years as a

Bernardo Provenzano, on trial along with other mobsters for
dozens of murders, was shown on a court television sitting
calmly at a prison in central Italy with court documents on a
table in front of him.

He communicated by telephone with his lawyer at the Palermo
courthouse. It is common practice in Italy that high-profile
mobsters be kept in jail rather than organizing a high-security
transfer to court.

The 73-year-old appeared on the same split television
screen as his predecessor, Toto "the Beast" Riina, who ruled
the Mafia until his arrest in 1993.

Provenzano replaced Riina and authorities fear a possible
battle of succession in the months to come for whoever takes
over from him.

The case against Provenzano, Riina and dozens of other
mobsters deals with more than a decade of Mafia crimes
including the 1991 murder of Libero Grassi, the owner of a
thriving textile company outside Palermo.

He was killed in 1991 after he refused to pay a large
monthly "pizzo," the Sicilian word for an extortion payment.

Provenzano, in his early days, was known as "Binnu the
tractor" because of the way he mowed down enemies when a rising
hitman of the Corleone clan.

Grassi's widow and two children quietly watched Provenzano,
wearing blue jeans, at the courtroom on Tuesday during the

"It's a great day for justice," his widow, Pina Maisano,
told reporters.

Provenzano and Riina asked the Palermo judge to instruct
television reporters and photographers not to retransmit images
of him shown during the court hearing. The judge agreed.

His lawyer also passed on a message for the media, saying
Provenzano -- who had a prostate tumor removed during his days
as a fugitive -- was receiving proper care in prison.

Provenzano was arrested at a farmhouse outside his hometown
of Corleone, the hilltown made famous by the Godfather films,
after police tracked a package sent by his wife. He had been
wanted since 1963.

He had already been sentenced in absentia to life in jail
in connection with the crime group's most notorious crimes of
recent decades, including the killings in 1992 of top
anti-Mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.