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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Lorenzo Tondo in Palermo

Police arrest Sicilian whose identity was used by fugitive mafia boss

Carabinieri officers lead Matteo Messina Denaro out of clinic.
Carabinieri officers arrested Matteo Messina Denaro in Palermo on January 16. Photograph: ITALIAN CARABINIERI PRESS OFFICE/AFP/Getty Images

An Italian man whose identity was taken by the mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro while he was a fugitive has been arrested by prosecutors in Sicily.

Andrea Bonafede, a 59-year-old Sicilian surveyor, described as “Denaro’s alter ego”, was charged on Monday for having helped the mobster avoid arrest and for protecting him while he was on the run.

Denaro, the last godfather of the Sicilian mafia and one of the world’s most wanted criminals, was apprehended at a private clinic in Palermo on 16 January – 30 years after he went on the run – where he had been periodically receiving treatment for a tumour under the false name of Andrea Bonafede.

Denaro was convicted in 2002 and sentenced in absentia to life in prison for having personally killed or ordered the murders of dozens of people.

According to magistrates, Bonafede lent his identity to Denaro, including his ID card, his health card and two cars. Even the house where the boss was hiding in Campobello di Mazara was registered under the name of Bonafede and bought in cash with the boss’s money. Bonafede was questioned by investigators last week and on Monday a judge placed him under arrest for mafia association.

According to the magistrates, Bonafede “knowingly provided Matteo Messina Denaro, for over two years, with his identity, a hideout and vehicles to move around safely”.

Bonafede defended himself by saying that he had met Denaro about a year ago in Campobello di Mazara, a small town in Trapani province, western Sicily, while he was walking in the street. Bonafede said the boss asked him to help him get treatment – doctors say Denaro has colon cancer.

According to investigators, however, it is “hardly credible that the most wanted boss in the world would have asked for help from a person he just met on the street”.

Authorities say the boss had lived in Campobello for more than a year undisturbed. Impeccably dressed in designer clothes, he could be seen drinking an espresso at the local cafe on most mornings, dining in a pizzeria, strolling the streets, shopping, and cordially greeting his neighbours. On Tuesday, investigators found videos recorded by a CCTV camera in a Campobello grocery store showing the boss shopping three days before his arrest: Denaro had reportedly bought minced meat, two bottles of beer and a laundry detergent.

Prosecutors are still searching hideouts used by Denaro in the town, located an 11-minute drive from his mother’s house. To date, the carabinieri have found at least three flats used by the mobster, including one that used a wardrobe full of clothes to conceal a secret bunker. Inside the hideouts, prosecutors found luxury clothes, emeralds, diamonds, a poster of Francis Ford Coppola’s film The Godfather and some books, including biographies of Vladimir Putin and Adolf Hitler.

According to mafia informers and prosecutors, Denaro, nicknamed Diabolik (the name of a fictional thief) and U Siccu (the skinny one), holds the key to some of the most heinous crimes perpetrated by the Sicilian mafia, including bomb attacks in 1992 that killed the anti-mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino and the killing in 1996 of Giuseppe Di Matteo, the 12-year-old son of a mobster turned state witness who was strangled and dissolved in acid.

Last week, Denaro was moved to a maximum-security prison in the central Italian city of L’Aquila, where last Thursday he was given an initial session of chemotherapy.

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