, ROME, Dec 7 – Italian police on Wednesday arrested the most senior boss of the Camorra mafia still at large, digging into a secret bunker near Naples to end his 16 years on the run, officials said.
Michele Zagaria, 53, the leader of the powerful and bloody Casalesi clan, has already been sentenced in absentia to multiple life terms in prison for a career of murder, extortion and drug trafficking.
Zagaria – known as “Twisted Face” for his asymmetrical features – was hidden in a bunker with a reinforced concrete ceiling under a home in the town of Casapesenna, 30 kilometres (19 miles) north of Naples.
“You won. The state has won,” Zagaria reportedly told anti-mafia investigators as he was being arrested.
The Naples anti-mafia prosecutor Catello Maresca told him: “It’s over.”
He was one of Italy’s 11 most wanted and most dangerous criminals and has been the subject of an international arrest warrant since 2000.
Rumours abound over the years Zagaria reigned at large: he is reputed to have carried out his most secret and dangerous meetings in local churches.
He would also conduct business meeting from a chaise lounge at his majestic villa, while caressing a beloved pet tiger, according to press reports.
The arrest “is a major success for the state” Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri said, adding that it would deliver a blow “not just to the Casalesi clan but to the entire Camorra organisation”.
Chief anti-mafia prosecutor Piero Grasso said: “We knew he was there but it was hard to find him, to smoke him out.”
Laura Garavini, a lawmaker from the centre-left Democratic Party and a member of the parliament’s anti-mafia committee, pointed to the fact that he was arrested in his power base and last known town of residence.
This “makes it even more important to answer fully doubts about the protections that he may have enjoyed all these years,” she said.
The Camorra is based mainly in and around Naples but has a vast international network that generates billions of euros (dollars) in profits from drug trafficking, counterfeit goods, waste disposal and construction.
Italian prosecutors on Tuesday carried out 47 arrests in a crackdown on the Casalesi clan and asked lawmakers to strip an MP from former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s party of his parliamentary immunity to arrest him too.
The Casalesi clan was at the centre of the book “Gomorrah” by investigative journalist Roberto Saviano, who has been forced into hiding because of threats against his life. The book became an award-winning film shown at Cannes.
Italian police last November arrested Antonio “The Baby” Iovine, a leader of the Casalesi known for his boyish good looks, after 14 years on the run.
Iovine, who had escaped arrest many times before, was picked up as he tried to jump from a balcony and was later seen elegantly-dressed and smiling as he was taken away by police in a sign of defiance towards his captors.