By Philip Pullella
ROME (Reuters) – The arrest of the Mafia’s top boss,
Bernardo Provenzano, after 43 years on the run is not a mortal
blow to the mob and may spark a bloody war of succession unless
heirs-in-waiting keep the peace, investigators say.
Provenzano, the undisputed mob chief who was arrested on
Tuesday near the Sicilian town of Corleone, may have been the
lodestar of the Mafia but every lodestar has a constellation.
“We should not make the mistake of thinking that the arrest
of Bernardo Provenzano will mean the beginning of the end of
the Mafia,” Antonio Ingroia, a leading anti-Mafia magistrate in
Sicily, told Reuters.
“Provenzano was not the whole Mafia, he was a point of
reference, but he also was less of a chieftain and dictator
than his predecessors,” Ingroia said.
In Corleone, the hill town made famous by the Godfather
films, police arrested three men who they said had helped cover
Provenzano’s tracks recently but, as was to be expected, they
were small-timers and not big players.
Provenzano, meanwhile, was flown out of Sicily and taken to
a maximum security prison near Terni in central Italy, state
Ingroia said the police operation that led to Provenzano’s
arrest was a “brilliant success” but there were at least two
people qualified to take his place — Salvatore Lo Piccolo and
Matteo Messina Denaro.
Like their master and mentor, they have been on the run for
some time — Lo Piccolo since 1983, Messina Denaro since 1993.
Lo Piccolo, a gang boss from the Mafia’s Resuttana district
in Palermo, is 63 and considered “old school” and to have been
the closest to Provenzano all these years.
Messina Denaro, from the grim western Sicilian provincial
city of Castelvetrano, is only 46 and known as the “playboy
boss” because he likes fast cars, women, and gold watches.
NEW GENERATION READY
“There is a generation of 50-somethings ready to carry on,”
Whether a war breaks out or not depends on what
investigators call “the internal equilibrium” of the Mafia.
Asked if he feared a clan war, Piero Grasso, the national
anti-Mafia prosecutor, told reporters: “I am Sicilian. I love
this land and I will do everything in my power to avoid it. But
soon, the vacuum left by the arrest will be filled.”
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 the Mafia a lower profile he hoped
would take the police spotlight off the crime organization.
“The Mafia today is more of a federation and less of an
authoritarian state,” said Ingroia.
“He established a kind of directorate of about four to
seven people who met very infrequently, only when necessary,
when there were strategic decisions to make,” Ingroia said.
“But in an organization like the Mafia, a boss has to be
one step above the others otherwise if all falls apart. It all
depends on if he can manage consensus and if the others agree
or rebel,” he said.
The last Mafia wars to bloody Sicily took place in the late
1980s when the Corleone clan headed by Toto “the beast” Riina,
Provenzano, Leoluca Bagarella and Luciano Liggio wiped out most
of their enemies.
The victors then turned their attention to the state and
killed magistrates, including Giovanni Falcone and Paolo
Borsellino in twin bomb attacks in 1992.
Provenzano took over when Riina was arrested in 1993 after
23 years on the run and decided that it would be better for
business if the Mafia kept a lower profile.
Now, investigators are waiting to see if the “Pax Mafiosa”
will stick together or fall apart.