Wed, Nov 07, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Top Mafia leader arrested

AFP , ROME

Mafia boss Salvatore Lo Piccolo, center, is escorted by Italian police after his arrest in Palermo on Monday. Lo Piccolo's 32-year-old son Sandro and three other men were also arrested in the raid.

PHOTO: AFP

Sicilian police on Monday arrested Mafia supremo Salvatore Lo Piccolo just a year and a half after nabbing his "boss of bosses" predecessor, Bernardo Provenzano.

Sicilian regional president Salvatore Cuffaro called the arrest of Lo Piccolo and three others including his 32-year-old son Sandro a "fatal blow" against the Cosa Nostra.

Around 40 officers stormed a farmhouse in Giardinello, outside Palermo, where the four Mafia figures were meeting in a garage, police said.

The police had surrounded the house and fired warning shots before moving in. There was no resistance although the four men were armed, the ANSA news agency reported.

Sandro Lo Piccolo, in tears, kept repeating "I love you, Daddy" during the arrests, ANSA said.

Both father and son had been sentenced in absentia to life in prison.

They were betrayed by one of Salvatore Lo Piccolo's closest lieutenants, Francesco Franzese, who was arrested in August, ANSA reported. Members of Franzese's family were taken to an undisclosed location for their protection, ANSA said.

Police said they seized money and weapons in the raid as well as documents "of great importance" regarding the Mafia hierarchy.

Notably, police recovered tiny notes known as pizzini that Lo Piccolo had thrown into a toilet at the farmhouse.

Piero Grasso, Italy's national prosecutor against organized crime, hailed Monday's arrests of four of Italy's 30 most wanted as "a great step forward in the fight against the Cosa Nostra."

The 65-year-old Lo Piccolo, who had been on the run for 23 years, was seen as Provenzano's replacement after beating playboy Matteo Messina Denaro to the position.

The two others arrested, Andrea Adamo and Gaspare Pulizzi, controlled Sicily's Brancaccio and Carini regions.

"It's an extraordinary day for Italian democracy and the fight against the Mafia," said Francesco Forgione, chairman of the Italian parliament's anti-Mafia committee, noting Lo Piccolo's links with US crime syndicates.

"The Lo Piccolos were two bosses involved in restructuring the Mafia after the arrest of Provenzano, and are go-betweens with the American Mafia," he said.

The arrests coincided with Palermo's annual "memory day" honoring victims of the Sicilian Mafia, the oldest and most famous of Italy's criminal organizations.

Nicknamed Cosa Nostra ("Our Thing"), the Mafia controls Sicily's economy and its political affairs.

Among hundreds of killings blamed on the Cosa Nostra were the assassinations of anti-Mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992.

Provenzano, 74, arrested in April last year after more than four decades on the run, is serving 10 life sentences.

His predecessor as Mafia supremo, Toto Riina, 76, presided over the Falcone and Borsellino murders. He has been in jail since 1993 serving some 15 life sentences, mostly for murder.

Organized crime -- including the Sicilian Mafia, the Naples Camorra, the 'Ndrangheta of southern Calabria and the Sacra Corona Unita in Apulia -- has a turnover of some 90 billion euros (US$128 billion), some 7 percent of Italy's GDP, a report last month said.

Businesses pay some 30 billion euros in pizzo (extortion money) to crime gangs each year, the report said, adding that some 160,000 businesses regularly pay pizzo.

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