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12 arrested in Italian anti-mafia operation

A total of 12 people were arrested on Tuesday in an operation against clans linked to a top fugitive mafia boss in Sicily, Italian media reported.

Anti-mafia prosecutors in Palermo targeted people suspected to be close associates of Matteo Messina Denaro, currently considered the most powerful figure within the Sicilian mob, and on the run since 1993, according to Ansa news agency.

All those arrested were variously charged with mafia association, extortion, aiding and abetting mafia businesses, and illegal ownership of assets.

The operation followed a probe launched in 2014 against mafia families in Vita and Salemi, two towns in the province of Trapani, west Sicily, from where Messina Denaro also came.

A share of these clans’ profits “would have been used to sustain fugitive boss Matteo Messina Denaro” during all of his flight, judicial authorities said in a statement.

Their illegal businesses were especially focused in the sectors of innovative agriculture and food service, investigators added. At least three agribusiness firms, including all of production assets, were also seized in the operation, which was carried out by some 100 officers of Italy’s military Carabinieri police.

A renowned entrepreneur in the wind power industry in Sicily, Vito Nicastri, was among the 12 people arrested on Tuesday, Ansa reported.

The man has long been suspected of providing key support to the run of Messina Denaro – following accusations by mobster-turned informants – and his assets have been subjected to preventive seizures in the past.

Matteo Messina Denaro, 55, is considered the last major leading figure of the Sicilian mob, or Cosa Nostra, since after the death of Bernardo Provenzano and Salvatore Riina in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

He is wanted for a long series of crimes, including dozens of killings and major attacks in Italian cities in the early 1990s, and has received several convictions, including life imprisonment. He is listed among the world’s most wanted fugitives, according to the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol).