Mafia chief’s right-hand man in jail ‘suicide’

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The right-hand man of the Mafia capo di capi, Bernardo “The Tractor” Provenzano, was found dead in his cell in the north Italian city of Modena yesterday morning. Francesco Pastoia, 62, was hanging from the bars of the cell by a sheet. Warders were unable to revive him.

The Sicilian gangster, who had often been in prison before, was one of 50 mafiosi close to Provenzano who were arrested on Tuesday in a raid in Palermo and other Sicilian towns by more than 1,000 police. The raid was the culmination of a three-year attempt to catch the 71-year-old boss, who has been on the run for the past 41 years, and who is regarded as the unchallenged chief of the Mafia.

Pastoia was described as the key interface between Provenzano and the subordinate mobsters who ensured his safety, delivered his typewritten commands, and kept him supplied with food and information as he slipped from one hideout to another.

Pastoia was also closely involved with Mafia crimes unearthed by the investigation. He made sure that firms linked to the mob continued to enjoy a monopoly of public construction contracts, and that shopkeepers and businessmen continued to hand over the pizzo, the Mafia protection money which remains the backbone of its wealth and power.

Investigators have strong evidence that Pastoia also planned and executed the murder of a businessman in Palermo last October. They listened in to each stage of the operation, though they were not able to prevent it.

Francesco Pastoia had a heart condition and was examined by a doctor and a psychologist before being put in his isolation cell in Modena jail. Yesterday, they said Pastoia had given them no reason to fear that he might attempt suicide. He had declined to reply to police questions.

But Pastoia had had the opportunity to read in the police warrant details of phone conversations which the investigators had recorded. These revealed that he had broken several of the Cosa Nostra’s cardinal rules, and had tried to keep Provenzano in the dark about crimes he had committed and which had not been approved by the leader.

In one tapped conversation with a friend, he had spontaneously confessed to committing murders without the approval of the Mafia boss in whose area he was operating. Investigators said these breaches of the Mafia code of ethics might have compromised Pastoia’s position in Provenzano’s eyes.

Bernardo Provenzano took over control of the Mafia after the arrest of his predecessor, Toto Riina, in 1993. Riina had been responsible for ordering the spectacular assassinations of two tireless anti-Mafia prosecutors, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, in 1992. As a way of ensuring the survival of the Mafia, Provenzano by contrast ordered the organisation to stop murdering people. The Mob has been remarkably quiet in public for more than a decade.

That may be about to change: the investigators uncovered a plan to blow up Piero Grasso, the Palermo prosecutor in charge of the Provenzano investigation. Asked about the plot this week, Mr Grasso replied drily: “Certainly, the bosses don’t like us.”

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