By Tess Owen
June 26, 2016 |
Italy's second-most wanted fugitive, mafia boss Ernesto Fazzalari, was captured on Sunday after two decades on the run.
Police nabbed Fazzalari, a leader of the powerful 'Ndrangheta organization, as he slept in a hideaway in the mountainous Calabria region in Italy's south.
He "went from his sleep to the handcuffs of the Carabinieri paramilitary police," Colonel Lorenzo Falferi told reporters, according to the Associated Press.
Fazzalari had been on the lam since 1996. He was convicted in absentia in 1996 of extortion, membership of a mafia-like organization, attempted murder and a double homicide. He now faces life in prison.
Italian prosecutor Federico Cafiero De Raho described Fazzalari as a "merciless killer" and a central actor in a bloody six-year turf war between rival 'Ndrangheta clans that left more than 600 people dead from 1985 to 1991 in Calabria. De Raho recalled one particular grisly episode that involved a victim's severed head being thrown into the air and shot as a target.
Italy's Interior Minister Angelino Alfano described Fazzalari as "one of the most important fugitives and a leading underworld figure," according to AFP.
Fazzalari's notorious 'Ndrangheta syndicate is based in Calabria in the "toe" of Italy's boot, but the group's reach stretches throughout the country, across Europe, and into South America, where it has deep roots in cocaine trade. Europol has ranked the 'Ndrangheta among the world's wealthiest and most powerful organized crime groups. In 2014, Pope Francis condemned the 'Ndrangheta as "the adoration of evil and contempt of the common good."
Authorities told reporters that Fazzalari was sleeping alongside a 41-year-old woman when he was arrested. Next to him was a pistol and two loaded magazines. The woman was taken into custody and is under investigation for weapons possession, according to AP.
Authorities also said that Fazzalari was able to elude capture for 20 years thanks to an entrenched "code of silence" and the complicity of local citizens. The 'Ndrangheta also has a history of successfully infiltrating local governments.
In 2004, the Carabinieri discovered Fazzalari's previous hideout: an underground bunker beneath a farmhouse in Taurianova, his hometown, with a tunnel that led to the woods.
Fazzalari was nowhere to be found, but two of his cohorts were arrested. The lair was equipped with air-conditioning system, internet, and television, and stocked with fine wines, bottles of Dom Perignon champagne and Cuban cigars, leading Italian media to describe it as Fazzalari's "five-star bunker." In 2012, the entire local council of Reggio Calabria was sacked on suspicion of having ties to the 'Ndrangheta. De Raho said that Fazzalari and his allies "controlled every clod of dirt."
"He was feeling protected in his territory, by his people," said De Raho.
Italy's most-wanted fugitive is Matteo Messina Denaro, chieftain of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra.
'Our feuding gangs could end up like cartel thugs shooting up restaurants' - retired leading Garda Tony Hickey
The decorated garda who targeted John Gilligan and his murderous gang believes no group is untouchable and that “the time will come” for the country’s organised crime gangs.
Retired Assistant Garda Commissioner Tony Hickey, who was the Chief Superintendent in charge of investigating the murder of Sunday Independent journalist Veronica Guerin, also raised concerns over the disregard being shown for innocent people by contemporary criminals.
“I’m no expert and have no inside track but what I hear through the grapevine is that some of the Hutches were involved with the Kinahans at the highest level and for whatever reason there was a hit placed on one Hutch member, there was a meeting, money exchanged hands and it was like something out of The Sopranos.
“I was at a seminar in the States a number of years ago with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the FBI. They talked about how the Mafia would go into a bar and shoot a man in the head and leave.
“But then Colombians arrived to Florida to distribute cocaine. They would go into a bar and shoot up the entire place. That’s the difference and maybe that’s the direction we’re heading? I don’t know.”
The former senior garda also discussed the dynamics of an organised crime outfit, and how internal paranoia can often lead to its downfall.
“There is so much paranoia involved, there is no honour among thieves and the gangs don’t trust each other deep down. They have to stay close to the action to make sure they don’t get ripped off.
“Gilligan himself was caught with money in Heathrow, because his bagman was arrested in Lucan.
“(Martin) Cahill was lucky, on a number of occasions several units were close to catching him, but he got shot.
“The same applies to the gangs right to the present day, their time will come as well and somebody else will take over,” he said.
Tony Hickey also discussed the investigation into the murder of heroic journalist Veronica Guerin – and how the lack of interaction with various national agencies made it difficult to target Gilligan and his gang prior to the killing.