Italian police today arrested suspected members of the Cosa Nostra crime syndicate in Palermo, Sicily, taking 99 people into custody. The operation was the fruit of a nine-month investigation largely based on phone-taps. It sought to dismantle a group suspected of trying to reform the Cosa Nostra’s “provincial commission”, or leadership, which has been in tatters since the arrest of fugitive boss Bernardo Provenzano two years ago, and his deputy Salvatore Lo Piccolo last year.
Investigators say Palermo’s Cosa Nostra had not yet decided who would become its new boss, but the evidence they have gathered suggests it is actively engaged in getting its candidates elected to political office. The inquiry has also revealed how dependent it is on collecting protection money. “This operation has severely weakened the Sicilian mafia. Well, to say ‘weakened’ is a bit reductive, let us say that it has put it in a deep crisis,” said the investigating magistrate. Provenzano spent 30 years in hiding running the Cosa Nostra and it will take time for any successor to forge a comparable power structure, but prosecutors warn it remains very active in trying to win public contracts, and the international drugs trade.