Changing the boss

03 2006

Changing the boss

The Mafia in Sicily
The dramatic capture of the Mafia's top man

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AS IF Italy's election was not providing enough drama, the day the results came out also saw the arrest of the country's most wanted man: Bernardo Provenzano. Mr Provenzano has long been fingered as the boss of the Sicilian Mafia: the capo di tutti i capi.

After chasing him for over 42 years, the police finally arrested him in a tumbledown farm building just outside Corleone, the Sicilian hill town made famous in “The Godfather” books and movies. It was there that Mr Provenzano was born 73 years ago, and there that he rose up the ranks of Sicily's Cosa Nostra. In the process he won the chilling nickname of “the tractor”, because of the ease with which he mowed down anybody who got in his way.

Several things seem to have helped him to stay on the run for so long. The last known photograph of him was taken some 47 years ago, when he was only 26. He had an uncanny knack for sensing traps. But perhaps most important, he was shielded by a network of protectors which Italy's chief anti-Mafia prosecutor once declared included both policemen and politicians.

His arrest raised two intriguing questions. The first was its timing. The Mafia has always been political, and Sicily is a stronghold of the centre-right coalition. Italians will take much persuading that the arrest, on the very day of a power shift in Rome, was a coincidence, even if its significance remains obscure. The second issue is whether the police were led to Mr Provenzano by associates”€and, perhaps, successors. Giuseppe Caruso, the Palermo police chief who masterminded the arrest, denied this, insisting that the fugitive fell into his hands “thanks to old-fashioned detective work”.

Whatever it was that led to Mr Provenzano's capture, it could have big implications for the Mafia's future. Despite his fearsome early history, Mr Provenzano became something of a moderate after taking control of the group over a decade ago. He will be especially remembered for stopping the Mafia's doomed but bloody efforts to challenge the state in the early 1990s. Under his leadership, Cosa Nostra seems to have withdrawn from its foreign activities to concentrate on crime in Sicily, notably extortion and the creaming-off of profits from public contracts. Under a new leader, that could all change


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