It has been four years since a court in Rome ruled on its final decision against four members of the Sicilian Mafia for the notorious assassination of the Italian prosecutor Giovanni Falcone, his wife Francesca, and three police escorts that shocked the nation on May 23, 1992. On that bloody day witnessed by Italy, all of them were instantly killed in a huge bomb explosion that was clearly recorded on local earthquake monitors. The half-ton of explosives used from unexploded World War II bombs was placed under the A29 highway between the city of Palermo and its airport that made Falcone’s regular driving route from the airport to the city and back.
On November 19, 2014, ex-Mafia leader Gaspare Spatuzza, a member of the Brancaccio clan, was sentenced to only twelve years in jail, as he turned police informant. Giuseppe Barranca and Cristoforo Cannella were sentenced to life in prison, while Cosimo D’Amato received 30 years behind bars. Giovanni Brusca, who detonated the bomb device by remote control from a nearby hill, is currently serving a life sentence that started in 1996 and was subsequently convicted of the bomb attack.
What happened in-between convictions?
Two years ago, a Sicilian court found four more defendants guilty and sentenced them to life in prison in the second trial into the 1992 killing. Salvatore Madonia, Cosimo Lo Nigro, Giorgio Pizzo, and Lorenzo Tinnirello were given life terms for their role in setting up the murder scene, including illegal acquiring of explosives. The expanding of the investigation was possible with the help of Gaspare Spatuzza, who gave evidence to prosecutors concerning how such a large amount of explosives was obtained and used for the deadly hit. Spatuzza decided to break the mafia’s code of silence and talked to authorities in 2008.
The former Mafia hitman self-accused of about 200 organization-ordered murders, was the one who made the headlines in 2009, claiming that media tycoon and later prime minister Silvio Berlusconi made a political-electoral deal with the Cosa Nostra, back in 1993. Berlusconi’s lawyer and then MP for the People of Freedom party has dismissed Spatuzza’s allegations.
The Sicilian mobster was also offered new information in the reopening of a probe into the assassination of anti-mafia magistrate Paolo Borsellino, who was Falcone’s colleague that died two months after Giovanni Falcone was murdered. The Sicilian prosecutors have called the new findings into the Borsellino killing “the biggest cover-up in Italian history,” as reported by Italy’s ANSA news agency. This comes after three police officers were accused in September this year for allegedly covering up evidence amid speculations over alleged state-mafia talks concerning both bomb slayings of Falcone and Borsellino.
Cosimo D’Amato died at the age of 62 in June last year while he was serving his 30-year sentence in an Italian prison. Details of either the cause or the exact place of his death haven’t been disclosed to the public.
Salvatore “Toto” Riina, the Cosa Nostra leader captured in 1993, died at the age of 87 in November last year while he was carrying out multiple life sentences in a maximum security prison. Both magistrates’ assassinations were ordered by the “boss of bosses.”
Who was Giovanni Falcone?
The Sicilian Mafia’s opponent Giovanni Falcone started his career as a district magistrate and started to specialize in criminal law in 1980. At that time, the chief of the Prosecution Office in Palermo, Rocco Chinnici, appointed Falcone to investigate the heroin traffic case of the Spatola-Inzerillo-Gambino Mafioso clan. Once Falcone was in charge, he set a new investigation line by seizing bank records to trace the money trail from every bank in Palermo, a task he completed all by himself, without any computer to process data. His investigation led to the Maxi Trial against the Sicilian Mafia that began in 1986.
Falcone’s efforts represented a success on the ground of 360 convicted Cosa Nostra members from a total of 474 charged Mafiosi. Yet, his great achievements were certainly seen in terms of winning and losing Mafia’s power and consequently put him at high risks of losing his life. Previous assassination attacks on Falcone eventually led him to work in a windowless, bombproof bunker, instead of a classic office. His home was protected as well, and a convoy of armored police cars served as his escorts during his feared assignments.
But despite his impressive work, Falcone was never awarded the chief prosecutor position in Palermo. Anyway, his fight against Mafia was far from an end. In March 1991, Giovanni Falcone accepted the Director-General of Criminal Affairs position at the Italian Ministry of Justice, offered by the new minister of Justice Claudio Martelli. Once installed, he established the Martelli decree with new measures and quick results against Cosa Nostra. Firstly, Falcone prevented Supreme Court from reviewing the sentences of the Maxi Trial, and then organized national and district offices in a new bid to stop the Mafia, to mention a few of his actions that terrified the Mafia even more.
How did the Falcone family see the sentences in the murder of Giovanni’s case and how did they remember him?
Maria Falcone, the sister of the magistrate and the president of the Giovanni and Francesca Falcone Foundation expressed her thoughts once the first round of convictions was final, 22 years after her brother was killed, in an interview for RoosterGNN.
Do you think justice has been done in the murder of your brother Giovanni Falcone?
Maria Falcone: If we consider the gunpoint of Cosa Nostra, I think that justice has been done. Surely, Cosa Nostra wanted Giovanni to die, and we can say, as revealed through all these years by the various justice collaborators, it was the Mafia who organized the attack and who ran it directly. I do not know if there were others outside Cosa Nostra who might have had a certain interest in killing Giovanni and the judges have not given an answer to this yet. I believe that true justice will be done when veils and doubts about Capaci’s deaths and massacre will no longer exist.
After one Mafia attempt to kill him in 1989, your brother said to his colleague Liliana Ferraro: “My life is mapped out. It is my destiny to take a bullet by the Mafia some day. The only thing I don’t know is when…” Did he place greater value on his work than on his life?
He surely did so. Giovanni had such a sense of the state and such a professional code of ethics that required him to work and to do his duty at any cost. This was stated during an interview when asked if he was afraid. He said: “The important thing is not whether you are afraid or not, but not to be influenced by fear, otherwise it would be unconsciousness.”
Do you think that the Mafia attack against Giovanni Falcone was extremely difficult to defeat or that his assassination could have been prevented by stronger security measures, such as a closer look at the A29 highway status?
I think it was impossible to predict the attack, exactly because of the way it was organized. Perhaps the work of security guards, responsible for protection, could have avoided the problem by diversifying its routes, or, for example, by landing [Falcone’s] plane at the military airport of Bocca di Falco. I believe that the strategy taken by security guards was not a typical one, even though it was almost impossible to predict the attack. Closing the highway would not have been a viable option.
What was the private life of the number one Italian anti-Mafia prosecutor like?
Giovanni was a man with many cultural interests, from music to cinema or reading. He could have his moments of relaxation even though it was a kind of “special surveillance”; he often went to my house and spent time with his family or visiting friends and on those occasions, he could enjoy some moments of pause. Definitely, what gave him most pleasure was to listen to a lot of music.
How has the face of the Italian Mafia changed from the early ’90s?
Despite the internal changes, the Mafia is still the same, still present. Despite the fact that the top of the organization has been decimated, what has changed over time is the organizational chart, the distribution of various mafias of southern Italy, so if it is true that [Cosa] Nostra has weakened over the years, the Ndrangheta [Calabrian Mafia] has greatly strengthened.
Have Italy’s society and its legal system changed sufficiently in order to form a strong offensive against the Mafia? Is today’s system an effective one?
It surely is. After the massacre of Capaci [close to where Falcone was killed] and Via D’Amelio [the place of Borsellino’s death], the Sicilian and Italian companies have claimed that there was more attention from the state, stronger repression. The cultural revolution of the Sicilians and the citizens’ desire for change have resulted in marches and demonstrations of all kinds. I feel I can say that there has been repression by the state, as demonstrated by the arrests of most of the fugitives who are now in prison, the constant attention to the processes still ongoing, and the continuing commitment to the surveillance and protection of magistrates.
You keep alive memories of your brother and his wife through the Giovanni and Francesca Falcone Foundation. Would you like to give us some details about the programs and scholarships offered by your organization in the fight against the Mafia?
Giovanni often said that the Mafia is also a cultural thing and that is why it is not enough to defeat the only repression of the police and magistrates; you need a change of the society, creating a diverse one, which discards the attitudes and negative values of the Mafia, as well as society’s indifference and silence. Giovanni gave great importance to the education of young people, and firmly believed in the essential values of democracy and trusted in the possibility of a generational leap that would cut the Mafia’s ability to have control of the territory.
It is precisely for this reason that the Giovanni and Francesca Falcone Foundation chose to devote most of its activities in schools, through the implementation of projects of educational law, which serve to create in young people a sense of state, love for justice and for freedom. The Foundation is also involved in organizing conferences and debates on topics related to the fight against the Mafia. Since 1994, it has also promoted scholarships for young graduates aimed at research and study on organized crime.
In the past year, The European Commission has called one of its meeting rooms “Falcone-Borsellino” and the FBI has dedicated a Gallery to Giovanni Falcone. How did you feel when you received the FBI memorial plaque?
Surely the worldwide recognition of the importance of Giovanni’s ideas and life is his great redemption. He was the first to point out that the Mafia was not a phenomenon limited to the region of Sicily, southern Italy or Italy in general, but on the contrary, it was a transnational fact. Precisely for this reason, he did engage and was the first in this, to create links with the U.S., Germany, and South America. Everybody has recognized the value and importance of his anti-crime activities, even after his death. The Palermo Convention of 2000 is one example, and the activities were part of the United Nations in the clash with the Mafia organizations that confirm and legitimate Giovanni’s idea of a phenomenon that definitely crosses the Italian boundaries.
“Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once,” as Giovanni Falcone liked to quote William Shakespeare. Do you agree that what remains behind is life’s best “revenge”?
His memory lives on everywhere, even outside of Italy, because his ideas were fundamental in the battle against the Mafia.