Berlusconi ‘stablekeeper’ daughter, son-in-law in Lombard sweep.
The daughter and son-in-law of a late Mafia don famous for a mid-1970s spell as alleged stable manager at ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi’s villa outside Milan were arrested in a sweep Tuesday that threw fresh light on Cosa Nostra’s business clout in the affluent Lombardy region. In a separate operation Tuesday, a front man for Cosa Nostra head Matteo Messina Denaro was arrested in Sicily. Former Berlusconi employee Vittorio Mangano died of cancer in jail in 2000 while serving time for drug trafficking and facing a double-homicide rap.
Late anti-Mafia hero Paolo Borsellino said he was a key figure in Mafia money laundering in northern Italy. Both Berlusconi and the close aide who allegedly recruited him to protect the media magnate’s family, ex-Senator and convicted Mafia associate Marcello Dell’Utri, have said he was a “hero” for not giving in to police pressure to say Berlusconi was linked to the Mafia. Mangano’s daughter Cinzia and his son-in-law Enrico Di Grusa were arrested along with six others in a probe police said bolstered previous evidence of Mafia penetration in Lombardy. The probe revealed an “entrepreneurial mafia” building commercial profits as well as illegal gains for “an association that utilizes the strength of its criminal history and reputation…not to carry out exclusively and obviously illegal actions but to enter into the economic fabric of the assigned zone and gain economic benefit from it,” Milan anti-mafia magistrate Stefania Donadeo wrote in the arrest order. “The strength of Mangano’s name alone was enough to intimidate” businesspeople, Donadeo said, saying “physical violence wasn’t required”. Cinzia Mangano was heard on a wiretap saying “we don’t have to prove anything,” the magistrate said. Giuseppe Porto, believed to have been a right-hand man of Mangano’s, was also arrested on Tuesday.
Investigators believe Cinzia Mangano and Enrico Di Grusa handled huge sums of money to support criminal fugitives and invest in new businesses. Police said they uncovered a complex network of cooperatives working in logistics and service sectors that turned under-the-table profits through false invoicing and labour exploitation. Investigators say the profits were then ploughed into maintaining Cosa Nostra fugitives and to make new business investments. Charges against those arrested include conspiracy to commit Mafia crimes, extortion, false invoicing and employing illegal workers.
Berlusconi, a real-estate developer who founded a media empire and became Italian premier three times, employed Vittorio Mangano from 1973-1975 at his villa in the town of Arcore near Milan. Mangano is widely referred to as ‘the Arcore Stablekeeper’. The ex-premier has repeatedly said he was not aware Mangano was a Mafioso but prosecutors claim he was not hired for a knowledge of horses but to deter kidnapping gangs who had spooked wealthy Lombards with a string of snatches.
Mangano already had a long criminal record dating back to the 1960s, and is suspected of having a role in the kidnapping of a dinner guest of Berlusconi’s in December 1974. Anti-mafia magistrate Borsellino, who was murdered in 1992 in Palermo two months after fellow anti-Mafia crusading judge Giovanni Falcone, believed Mangano was a “key conduit” for laundering illicit funds in Lombardy.
MESSINA DENARO ‘FRONT MAN’ ARRESTED
The Mangano bust was one of two major anti-Mafia operations in Italy Tuesday. Police also seized more than 700 million euros’ worth of assets from Sicilian businessman Giuseppe Grigoli, 64, suspected of being a trusted crony and dummy proprietor for fugitive Cosa Nostra No.1 Messina Denaro.
A court in Trapani, a city in western Sicily, ordered the confiscation of 220 buildings, including villas and large city residences, 133 parcels of land amounting to 60 hectares, and 12 businesses.
Investigators claim the assets were bought to launder Mob profits. Grigoli, who is currently in jail, has been called the “supermarket king” for his leading role in food distribution in Sicily. Grigoli is serving a 12-year sentence for Mafia conspiracy handed down by an appeals court. In the same trial, Denaro, on the lam since 1993, was condemned in absentia to 20 years in prison.
There have been several assets seizures from Messina Denaro associates in the last few years. On Friday police seized 3.5 million euros in assets including bank accounts in Sicily and Lombardy belonging to a Sicilian wind-farm mogul, Vito Nicastri, linked to him. The operation followed up the biggest-ever assets seizure in the history of Italy in April, when over 1.3 billion euros belonging to wind- and solar-power magnate Nicastri was taken. The National Anti-Mafia Directorate (DIA) has said Nicastri is directly linked to Denaro, who the DIA said last week was the “indisputable leader” of the Sicilian Mafia, clearing up reports that his status was not unchallenged.
That operation involved 43 companies or stakes in companies, 98 properties, seven vehicles and 66 financial assets, including bank accounts, credit cards and life-insurance policies, belonging to Nicastri, a leading player in the clean-energy sector. “We have hit the heart of the grey area of Cosa Nostra,” investigators said at the time. As well as Sicily, assets were seized in Lombardy, Lazio and Calabria. Investigators said the 57-year-old businessman from Alcamo, in western Sicily, “maintained constant relations with members of Cosa Nostra” in the provinces of Catania, Messina and Palermo, as well as having contacts with Calabrian crime syndicate ‘Ndrangheta. This relationship allegedly “facilitated his transformation from an electrician into a businessman specialising in the production of electricity from renewable sources, giving him a prominent position in the south (of Italy)”. In a “tumultuous business dynamic,” they added, Nicastri had “relations” with companies in Luxembourg, Denmark and Spain. The businessman, who was put under “special supervision” in which he will have to regularly sign in at police stations, has been involved in previous probes which revealed Cosa Nostra’s “huge” involvement in wind farms near Trapani, Messina Denaro’s home turf, investigators said.
The record assets seizure was the latest in the anti-Mafia prosecutors’ policy aimed at draining Messina Denaro’s resources and exposing him, police said. Despite his life as a fugitive, Messina Denaro is still in full charge of the Mafia, the DIA said last week, having taken over from boss of bosses Bernardo Provenzano, arrested in 2006 after 43 years on the run. Italian daily in Il Fatto Quotidiano daily reported in April that Messina Denaro was planning to kill a prosecutor leading a case against police allegedly involved in suspected secret 1990s talks with the State to stop a bombing campaign that claimed the lives of Falcone and Borsellino.
Details of Messina Denaro’s alleged assassination plan against Palermo prosecutor Nino Di Matteo were contained in two anonymous letters sent to Palermo prosecutors, the daily said. The government immediately ordered Di Matteo’s police protection to be beefed up. The report was the first claim that Messina Denaro was planning to kill a prosecutor. It came as a surprise in the light of the Italian police’s repeated reports they have severely dented the Mafia chief’s power by arresting associates and seizing assets.
In another seizure, on January 25, hundreds of thousands of euros in olive-oil businesses, cars and bank accounts were confiscated or frozen. They were in the name of Messina Denaro’s sister Anna and her husband, detained on Mafia charges, 43-year-old Vincenzo Panicola. A wave of arrests over recent years have closed the net around the 50-year-old Messina Denaro, one of the world’s 10 most-wanted men, according to Interpol. In 2011 the hunt kicked into a new gear when police issued a new identikit picture of him. A year previously they were able to reconstruct his DNA. Messina Denaro built up his power base in Trapani before beating Palermo chieftains to become kingpin after police finally caught up with Provenzano. His position at the top of Cosa Nostra was assured with the November 2007 arrest of Palermo boss Salvatore Lo Piccolo, a veteran mafia chieftain who had appeared to be vying with the younger mobster for control of crime syndicate and had the apparent support of the ‘old guard’.
Messina Denaro had been expanding his criminal empire abroad and police found evidence of trips to Austria, Greece, Spain and Tunisia. But police launched a major counter-offensive, implementing a ‘scorched earth’ campaign to try and flush Messina Denaro out, arresting scores of his underlings and seizing million of euros in assets. “The circle is closing around the No.1 fugitive,” then interior minister Roberto Maroni said in 2010. Palermo Chief Prosecutor Francesco Messineo added at the time that their aim of the strategy against Messina Denaro was to “dry up the water he swims in”. Last May then National Anti-Mafia Prosecutor Pietro Grasso, who has since become Senate Speaker after being elected for the centre-left Democratic Party in February elections, said the efforts had been so successful that “the Mafia effectively no longer has a No.1”. Nicknamed ‘Diabolik’ after a cult Italian comic strip criminal, Messina Denaro sealed a reputation for brutality by murdering a rival Trapani boss and strangling his three-months pregnant girlfriend. He is reportedly idolised by Cosa Nostra younger troops because of his ruthlessness and playboy-like charisma.
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