Italian police dig up ‘most-wanted’ fugitive mobster

AP, ROME

Fri, Dec 09, 2011 - Page 6

Police on Wednesday captured one of Italy’s most-wanted fugitive mobsters, arresting the last major boss of one of Italy’s bloodiest Mafia clans.

Michele Zagaria, on the run since 1995, was found in an underground bunker in Casapesenna, in his hometown province of Caserta in southern Italy, the headquarters of the Casalesi clan of the Neapolitan Camorra.

Anti-Mafia prosecutor Piero Grasso said it was likely Zagaria had spent his years as a fugitive nearby since mob bosses “can only exercise their power if they’re in an environment that protects them.”

“This was the nightmare: We knew he was there, but it was tough to find him, tough to get him out,” he told Sky TG24. “Finally we did.”

Police had located the bunker some time ago and were digging around it. Zagaria was watching their progress on closed-circuit TVs and gave up without a fight after police cut off the electricity that was pumping fresh air into the bunker, news reports said.

“The government won,” he told police, the ANSA news agency reported. “It’s over.”

Investigators contend the Casalesi family runs a lucrative illegal business in transporting and disposing of toxic waste, a murky world explored in the book and film Gomorrah. Other moneymakers for the crime clan are rackets, extortion, drug trafficking, smuggling of illegal migrants and arms.

Police have seized about 2 billion euros (US$2.7 billion) worth of assets allegedly illegally gained by its members over the last few years.

Last year, another top Casalesi lieutenant, Antonio Iovine, nicknamed o ninno (dialect for “the baby”) for his youthful looks, was arrested in a major strike against the Casalesi. His arrest left Zagaria as the last big fugitive lieutenant of the charismatic convicted Camorra boss Francesco Schiavone.

Nicknamed Sandokan after the hero of a series of pirate adventure books in Italy, Schiavone is believed to still control the Casalesi clan from behind bars.

Zagaria is wanted for murder, extortion, kidnapping, Mafia association and other crimes.

In one of their bloodiest strikes, Casalesi gunmen gunned down six African immigrants in one swoop as they chatted on a town street in what police said was a warning to other Africans to stay away from drug trafficking in the area.