Showing posts with label antimafia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label antimafia. Show all posts

January 25, 2018

Murder, extortion, usury, drug trafficking, plus the plunder of art. Do you know whose hands your art collection has passed through?

While a single, somewhat less than attractive not likely ancient artifact, recovered during a police raid in Italy, might not garner as much attention in the English media as say, an Etruscan vase seized from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it still deserves a closer look.

The bust, pictured above, deserves attention because if you dig a bit deeper than just reading a short headline of it being confiscated yesterday along with cocaine, a semiautomatic Beretta and a Colt revolver, you can begin to understand a sliver of the dynamics that sometimes come into play on the darker side of the illicit art market. A place where transactions can sometimes be furthered by violent criminals, in complete juxtaposition to the well-manicured, suit and tie wearing, art dealers who later launder illicit objects through some of the art market's finer art galleries.

This marble bust was seized in the insalubrious quarter of Ostia Nuova, twenty-five minutes west of Rome.  The marble head of a child was recovered during search and seizure warrants carried out late yesterday evening and early this morning in which ultimately thirty-one individuals were arrested on suspicion of affiliation with the Spada organized crime family.  Each of the persons taken into custody will answer to possible charges governing the crime of mafia-type criminal association as defined by Article 416 bis in the Italian Criminal Code.  One suspect remained at large at the time this article was written.

Over the years, the area surrounding Ostia has become fertile ground for criminal activities of all types and the scene of bloody clashes between rival factions of mafia clans and local right-wing criminal gangs. In the face of competing criminal organizations, Italy's Carabinieri and the country's Guardia di Finanza have seen the underworld influence in the region ebb and flow, as one organized crime group replaces another, with each competing group vying for its own coastal territory in order to control political, drug, gambling, prostitution, loan-sharking or social housing rackets.

Speaking about the area where the marble bust was seized, organized crime author Roberto Saviano, who lives his life under police escort due to mafia threats, once spoke about Ostia saying  "[it] has now become like Corleone, like Scampìa: the domain territory of the clans."  A place where the influence of three families: Fasciani, Triassi and Spada have been pervasive in reshaping the power-balances between various Italian criminal organisations.

Locals in the community, who have lost faith in politics and institutions, often simply close their eyes to the blatant presence of organized crime in Ostia, either out of fear of retribution, or sadly, because they simply feel indifference.

In 2011 the trail of blood that bloodied Ostia escalated and newspapers recounted the story of the shocking daytime assassination of Francesco Antonini (Sorcanera), aged 45, and Giovanni Galleoni (Bafficchio), aged 42. Both men had been lieutenants affiliated with the Magliana gang and its also murdered boss, Paolo Frau.  Before being gunned down,  Antonini and Galleoni were incriminated in the managing of drug trafficking and laundering of illicit proceeds, activities conducted in the Ostia area in the shadow of close alliances with both Camorra and 'Ndrangheta, but in competition with the local Spada family.

In June 2017 Italian police made 21 arrests in connection to a drug trafficking ring tied to members of the Spada organization.  This network operated internationally bringing drugs into Italy through human mules and shipments arriving from Barcelona which fed the market in Ostia and Rome.  During these arrests, 700 kilos of hashish, marijuana and cocaine were seized, along with various caliber arms and ammunitions.

As law enforcement continued to step up its pressure on the clans, seven additional affiliates of the Spada organization were sentenced in October 2018 to a combined 56 years in jail for various offenses ranging from extortion to mafia association. Carmine Spada, the local family's boss, was sentenced to 10 years for extortion and mafia association.

Perhaps rattled by his brother's arrest, or with a sense of invincibility, Roberto Spada attacked RAI news journalist Daniel Piervincenzi on November 7, 2017 during an impromptu interview.  The assault was captured by news cameraman Edward Anselmi as the incident unfolded.  

Midway through his questioning regarding the city of Ostia and the Spada family's relationship with the neo-fascist populist group Casa Pound, Spada violently headbutted Piervincenzi breaking his nose and bloodying his face.  To his credit, Anselmi courageously continued filming and held tight to his camera while his journalistic partner was further battered by Spada with a truncheon as he tried to withdraw, while a second assailant violently tried to grab the cameraman's video camera as can be seen and heard in the graphic footage below. 

After the attack, journalist Piervincenzi spoke of the townspeople who had witnessed the assault as it unfolded but who remained silent due to a climate of fear, silence and intimidation.  One witness apparently even closed the blinds to his apartment to avoid having to acknowledge the act of aggression taking place outside his home.

Piervincenzi was so frightened by the incident that he and his cameraman drove all the way back to Rome instead of seeking immediate medical treatment for his broken nose at the nearby hospital in Ostia, saying: "We have been afraid. Staying there, at that time I was not sure. We were concerned that some member of the Spada family could reach us at the hospital and they could harm us and steal our camera with the video [footage] that we shot."  

Roberto Spada was arrested by police for the incident and charged with grievous bodily harm and domestic violence with the aggravating circumstance that he acted in a mafia environment. Both he and Carmine Spada have also just been implicated today as having direct involvement in the earlier murders of Antonini and Galleoni back in 2011.

But back to our looted or possibly stolen marble bust.

Yesterday's search and seizure took place in the sub quarter of Ostia Nuovo, where large public housing buildings alternate with crumbling infrastructure and drug-dealing street corners.  It is in this zone that law enforcement agents have made a concerted effort, to reduce the Spada family's influence, who have, until quite recently, controlled significant parts of the suburb's underworld economy.

In a series of raids by Carabinieri officers, which involved searches at multiple properties tied to, or controlled by, associates of the Spada family, law enforcement officers identified the 7.65 caliber semiautomatic pistol and a revolver in the basement of an Ostia Nuova condominium.  In addition to the two weapons, officers recovered doses of cocaine and a precision scale used for weighing narcotics hidden in a niche of the same building's elevator shaft.

The marble bust and a seperate marble inscription were found hidden under blankets inside a suspect's automobile. The owner of the car, is already on house arrest.

The marble head has now been sequestered while its authenticity is confirmed. The firearms will undergo ballistic comparison testing, to determine whether or not the weapons might be linked to past criminal actions.

By:  Lynda Albertson

November 17, 2017

A Sicilian Mafia Primer to Organized Crime Members with apparent ties to Gianfranco Becchina

This is a list of mafia-tied individuals and cooperating mafia-tied individuals authorities have stated have associations with, or who have directly implicated, Gianfranco Becchina for Cosa Nostra involvement. 

(Note:  This list is not complete and will be updated periodically as other names and details are released.)

Giovanni Brusca - Ex Capomafia of the San Giuseppe Jato family.  Incarcerated. Also known as "U' Verru" (in Sicilian) or Il Porco or Il Maiale, (In Italian: The Pig, The Swine) or lo scannacristiani (christian-slayer; in Italian dialects the word "christians" often stands in place of human beings). The information he provided regarding Becchina has not been made public though it appears to implicate Becchina with having had a relationship with  Francesco Messina Denaro and fencing of antiquities.

Calculating and violent, Brusca is known to have tortured the 11-year-old son of a mafia turncoat or pentito to get him to retract statements made to the authorities in connection to the Capaci massacre.  After holding the boy hostage for 26 months, he strangled the child and dissolved his body in acid.  Brusca  once stated that he had killed "between 100 and 200" people with his own hands but was unable to recall exactly how many murders he had participated in or ordered.

Brusca is also responsible for detonating 100 kilograms of TNT in 1992 under the highway between Palermo and the Punta Raisi airport in a bomb attack which murdered anti-Mafia magistrate and prosecutor Giovanni Falcone, Falcone's wife and five of his bodyguards. In 1993 Brusca mounted further bombing raids throughout mainland Italy hoping to intimidate politicians into reversing decrees for tougher jail regimes for incarcerated mafiosi. This wave of bombings in Florence, Milan and Rome left 10 people dead and injured 70 others.

Later, after his arrest, and through a series of strange accords, Brusca also turned informant, though much of his testimony has, at times, appeared to be self serving.  His testimony has afforded him controversial and exceptional treatment in direct contrast with his previous level of lethality. According to some of the testimony released, Messina Denaro was given the job of picking which paintings to target in the Florence bombing that ripped through a wing of the world famous Uffizi gallery because of his knowledge of art.    He is currently sentenced to life in prison.

Rosario Cascio - Mafia Associate to several bosses in multiple families including the fugitive Matteo Messina Denaro of the Castelvetrano family.  Incarcerated.  A Sicilian building magnate known as the "cashier of Cosa Nostra." At one time had a hit put out on him by mobster Angelo Siino only to have Matteo Messina Denaro intervene on his behalf.

Cascio managed the family's economic activities and sub-contracts, and monopolized the concrete market and the sale of and construction equipment.  Through these he steered public contracts towards mafia businesses and managed an extortion racket which imposed sub contracts and labor.  In 1991 Cascio became connected with Becchina's Atlas cements Ltd., and took over as reference shareholder and director.

Vincenzo Calcara - exMafia soldier of the Castelvetrano family and collaborator of justice. Former protege of Francesco Messina Denaro.  Previously involved in international drug trafficking and money laundering which purportedly implicated the Vatican bank.  Calcara was originally tasked to kill antimafia Judge Paolo Borsellino with a sniper rifle but was arrested before he could carry out the plot. Involved in the trafficking of weapons, drugs, and political corruption. Offered a place in the witness protection program but refused.  Later Cosa Nostra determined his whereabouts and threatened his wife if she didn't get him to stop talking to authorities.  In 1992 Calcara and Rosario Spatola incriminated Becchina for alleged association with the Campobello di Mazara and Castelvetrano clans implying that there was a gang affiliate active in Switzerland whose role was to excavate and sell ancient artefacts on the black market.

Lorenzo Cimarosa -  Mafia declarant and law enforcement collaborator. Deceased.  Died as the result of cancer while on house arrest. Cimarosa was married to a cousin of mob boss Matteo Messina Denaro. Cimarosa told authorities about a warning message Becchina received from the mob in January 2012.  In that incident, someone fired shots from a shotgun at Becchina's door and left an intimidating gift of flowers. Cimarosa told authorities that he had heard through Francesco Guttadauro, nephew of the boss of the Castelvetrano family, that the incident was ordered by Matteo Messina Denaro himself for non-delivery of payments.  Cimorosa indicated that between 70 and 80,000 euros were paid through Becchina regularly. After his death the site where Cimorasa was buried has subsequently vandalized, perhaps as a warning to his wife and son. 

Francesco Messina Denaro - Capo Mandamento of the Castelvetrano family.  Deceased.  Died in hiding in 1998 while a fugitive from justice.  Father to Matteo Messina Denaro who took over his father's enterprise.  Francesco, also known as Don Ciccio, headed up the Castelvetrano family from 1981 until 1998 and was a member of the Cupola (Mafia Commission) of the Trapani region from 1983 until his death in 1998.  He was a close ally to the Corleone faction led by Salvatore "Totò" Riina and Bernardo Provenzano.  Purportedly had ties to Becchina relating to the theft, looting, and laundering of antiquities. 

Matteo Messina Denaro - Boss of the Castelvetrano family. Also known as "Diabolik." Fugutive.  Solidified his position in the mafia following the arrests of two of his predecessors, Salvatore "Totò" Riina in 1993 and Bernardo Provenzano in 2006.  A fugitive since 1993, he has been convicted in absentia for the Sicilian mafia's bombing campaign in the early 1990s, which killed magistrates and bystanders in Sicily, Rome and Florence which killed ten people and injured 93 others.  He once boasted "I filled a cemetery all by myself." According to Giovanni Brusca, Matteo Messina Denaro was the facilitator of the 1993 Uffizi gallery bombing in Florence.  In that incident a Fiat car packed with 100kg of explosives detonated killing six people, and destroying three paintings - two by Bartolomeo Manfredi and one by the Gherardo delle Notti.  He was also implicated in the bombing of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome.  Becchina allegedly passed envelopes of money to Denaro's brother in law and sister. Investigative seizures made by authorities in connection with this Cosa Nostra boss are so extensive it is hard to tell where the economy of western Sicily stops and Denaro’s mafia-controlled empire begins.  

Patrizia Messina Denaro - Sister of fugitive Boss and Capodonna representative of the Castelvetrano family.  Incarcerated.  Serving a 14 year and 6 months sentence for acting as stand in Capo Donna for her brother.  She was found guilty of being a full member of the Mafia and not an affiliate mafia. Several firms including an olive-oil company belonging to her and her husband were impounded and a number of bank accounts frozen.

Francesco Geraci - Mafia associate to Boss of Bosses Salvatore "Totò" Riina of of the Catania Family.  Incarcerated. There are two Cosa Nostra affiliates in custody with this same name.  One is the nephew and one is son of a deceased capomafia of the mafia family of Chiusa Sclafani.  It is unclear at this time which is cooperating with authorities. 

Giuseppe Grigoli - Mafia associate to the Castelvetrano family and law enforcement collaborator. Incarcerated. Also known as "Grigg." Former owner of a chain of Despar supermarkets in Sicily, convicted of being the entrepreneurial arm of fugitive Messina Denaro’s organisation using his retail and distribution group to launder Matteo Messina Denaro's cash.  Told the PM of the District Anti-Mafia Directorate of Palermo that between 1999 and 2006 he was given envelopes filled with money by Becchina which were to be delivered to Vincenzo Panicola, the husband of Matteo Messina Denaro's sister Patrizia Messina Denaro. These exchanges were said to have taken place in the former offices of 6Gdo, the distribution chain confiscated just at the time of his arrest. 

Concetto Mariano - Mafia Associate of the Cosa Nostra Marsala family and law enforcement collaborator. Incarcerated. Mariano began cooperating with justice officials two months after being arrested.  Implicated Becchina in a plot to steal and fence in Switzerland the bronze statue of the Dancing Satyr, attributed by scholars to Praxiteles housed at the Piazza Plebiscito Museum in Mazara del Vallo.

Vincenzo Panicola - Mafia associate. -Incarcerated.  Brother-in-Law of fugitive Castelvetrano boss, Matteo Messina Denaro. Husband of Patrizia Messina Denaro, sister of the boss.  Worked with mafia associate Mafia associate to the Castelvetrano family, Giuseppe Grigoli. Convicted in 2013 to ten years in prison. Several firms including an olive-oil company belonging to him and his wife were impounded and a number of bank accounts frozen.

Santo Sacco - Mafia associate - Incarcerated.  A former UIL trade unionist and city councillor for Castelvetrano, Sacco was  sentenced to 12 years for is affiliations with Matteo Messina Denaro in the control of various business activities, including alternative energy as well as activities in support of the families of mobsters incarcerated.  Wiretaps of conversations with Becchina show collusion towards vote fixing and influence peddling in support of the election campaigns of Giuseppe Marinello and Ludovico Corrao. 

Angelo Siino - Mafia associate to the San Giuseppe Jato family. Incarcerated.  Often referred to as Cosa Nostra's "ex-minister of public works".  A businessman who oversaw whose principal duties were to oversee mafia public sector affairs through the illegal acquisition of public work contracts. Siino would receive the lists of public contracts before they became publicised and through through threats and extortion, insure that these contracts would be awarded to mafia influence coalitions, thereby controlling the market for public contracts in Sicily.

Rosario Spatola - Law enforcement collaborator.  Deceased. A former drug dealer who passed information in the 1990s to Judge Paolo Borsellino on drug trafficking in Trapani area and the role of the clan led by Boss Francesco Messina Denaro.  Believed by some not to be a true member of Cosa Nostra as his father was a policeman making his membership void.  In 1992 Spatola and Vincenzo Calcara, incriminated Becchina for alleged association with the Campobello di Mazara and Castelvetrano clans implying that there was a gang affiliate active in Switzerland whose role was to excavate and sell ancient artefacts on the black market.  At the time much of his testimony was discounted as many were skeptical that he had actual knowledge or invented things to his own benefit.

For more details on this case please see the following to blog posts here and here

November 16, 2017

Il vento sta cambiando, updates on Gianfranco Becchina asset seizure, fire, and vote fixing.

Politics and mafia are both powers which draw life from the control of the same territory; so they either wage war or come to some form of agreement.
--Paolo Borsellino,
Italian magistrato italiano, murdered by the Mafia

Yesterday ARCA reported on the assets seizures involving 78-year-old Gianfranco Becchina, an action taken in relation to probable collusion with the Sicilian mafia, Cosa Nostra. The disgraced Italian antiquities dealer was convicted in the first degree in 2011 for his role in the illegal antiquities trade. A portion of his accumulated business records, up until 2002, were seized earlier by Swiss and Italian authorities during raids conducted on Becchina’s Swiss art gallery, Palladion Antique Kunst, as well as two storage facilities inside the Basel Freeport, and another elsewhere in Switzerland. This archive of documents and photos, known as the Becchina archive, consists of some 140 binders containing more than 13,000 documents and photos related to antiquities, bought and sold, which at one point or another are known to have passed through this dealer's network of illicit suppliers.

Mafia association is a formal criminal offense provided for by the Italian penal code introduced into law via article 416-ter of Law no. 646/1982, and designed to combat the spread of the Mafia.

Art. 416-ter reads: 

"Any person participating in a Mafia-type unlawful association including three or more persons shall be liable to imprisonment for 7 to 12 years. 

Those persons promoting, directing or organizing the said association shall be liable, for this sole offence, to imprisonment for 9 to 14 years. 

Mafia-type unlawful association is said to exist when the participants take advantage of the intimidating power of the association and of the resulting conditions of submission and silence to commit criminal offences, to manage or at all events control, either directly or indirectly, economic activities, concessions, authorizations, public contracts and services, or to obtain unlawful profits or advantages for themselves or for others, or with a view to prevent or limit the freedom to vote, or to get votes for themselves or for others on the occasion of an election. 

Should the association be of the armed type, the punishment shall be imprisonment for 9 to 15 years pursuant to paragraph 1 and imprisonment for 12 to 24 years pursuant to paragraph 2. 

An association is said to be of the armed type when the participants have firearms or explosives at their disposal, even if hidden or deposited elsewhere, to achieve the objectives of the said association. 

If the economic activities of which the participants in the said association aim at achieving or maintaining the control are funded, totally or partially, by the price, the products or the proceeds of criminal offences, the punishments referred to in the above paragraphs shall be increased by one-third to one-half. 

The offender shall always be liable to confiscation of the things that were used or meant to be used to commit the offence and of the things that represent the price, the product or the proceeds of such offence or the use thereof. 

The provisions of this article shall also apply to the Camorra, ‘ndrangheta and to any other associations, whatever their local titles, even foreigners, seeking to achieve objectives that correspond to those of Mafia-type unlawful association by taking advantage of the intimidating power of the association." 

To further dismantle Matteo Messina Denaro’s operational funding, Italy's Anti-Mafia Investigative Directorate (DIA) moved to seize Becchina's cement trade business, Atlas Cements Ltd., his olive oil company, Olio Verde srl., Demetra srl., Becchina & Company srl., bank accounts, land, and real estate properties including Palazzo Pignatelli yesterday.  Palazzo Pignatelli is part of the ancient Castello Bellumvider, a separate portion of which is owned by the city of Castelvetrano and houses the town hall. 

During the execution of the seizure of assets at Palazzo Pignatelli, a fire mysteriously broke out in a first-floor study, located in Becchina's wing of of the property.  Called on the scene, fire department officials extinguished the flames yesterday and returned for a second time today, along with the DIA and scientific police to uncover any traces that would determine the cause of the fire.

The seizure of these Becchina assets comes following the cooperation of mafia associate/police informant Giuseppe Grigoli, known in wiretaps as Grig.  Grigoli once owned a chain of Despar supermarkets in northwestern Sicily, used to launder mafia proceeds into the legal economy.  Starting out in 1974 as the owner of one grocery, Grigoli parlayed his relationship with Cosa Nostra, building a business empire which was once valued as a 700 million euro enterprise. 

The Italian authorities seized Grigoli's assets when they tied him to mafia  transactions through banking documents from 1999 through 2002, when the "king of supermarkets" was at the height of his business success. The arrest and conviction of Grigoli proved to be the tip of the Trapani Cosa Nostra iceberg and served to flush out many players in the hidden network of strategic partners that facilitate the activities of fugitive Castelvetrano boss, Matteo Messina Denaro, including now, Gianfranco Becchina. 

As a now cooperating police informant, Grigoli told the PM of the District Anti-Mafia Directorate of Palermo that between 1999 and 2006 he was given envelopes filled with money by Becchina which were to be delivered to Vincenzo Panicola, the husband of Matteo Messina Denaro's sister Patrizia Messina Denaro.  But Becchina's mafia influence doesn't apparently stop at trafficking of antiquities and aiding and abetting a mobster on the run. 

An article written in today’s La Repubblica by journalist Salvo Palazzolo, reports that during a 2001 Carabinieri TPC wiretap into Becchina’s role in the illicit trafficking of antiquities, law enforcement authorities overheard conversations between Becchina and Santo Sacco, a former UIL trade unionist and city councillor for Castelvetrano, who was later sentenced for mafia association.

In police transcripts of those conversations Becchina implicated himself as being involved in vote fixing in support of the election campaign of Giuseppe Marinello, from the People of Freedom party, who, at the time, was running for a seat in the Chamber of Deputies representing Sciacca in Sicily.  In their conversation Sacco also boasted about his role in the campaign of Ludovico Corrao saying "But I fully carried inside an iron bell ... I'm not kidding, 6,400 votes..."  Both incidences clearly show the impact of organized crime on parliamentary elections in Sicily.

In a mysterious wrinkle to this story, ex senator Corrao was later the victim of a gruesome murder. In 2011 his throat was found cut with a kitchen knife, nearly decapitating his head, both wrists had been slashed and he was left in a bloody pool having apparently also been bludgeoned with a statuette. After the slaughter, Seiful Islam, a Bangladeshi servant, called the police and confessed to the murder.  Islam later attempted suicide while in custody and was found not guilty by reason of unsound mind and transferred to a psychiatric facility.

Illicit trafficking,
money laundering,
influence peddling,
vote fixing,

Organized crime is detrimental not just to art, but to the functioning of a society.

By:  Lynda Albertson

November 15, 2017

Assets of Gianfranco Becchina seized in relation to mafia collusion

DIA Seizing Gianfranco Becchina assets 
Most people who follow the illicit trafficking of antiquities will already be familiar with the name of Gianfranco Becchina -- a name frequently linked to Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes, and Bob Hecht and their roles in furthering the illicit antiquities trade.  Less well known perhaps, at least among the who's who list of criminals involved in art crimes, is Matteo Messina Denaro, or the details of Becchina's alleged involvement with the inner circle of this Cosa Nostra kingpin. This, despite the fact that Becchina seems to have been sent a warning message from the mob in January 2012, when someone fired shots from a shotgun at his door and left an intimidating gift of flowers.

L'omertà e la paura and the boss of bosses

With a name straight out of an Italian comic book, Matteo Messina Denaro, also known as "Diabolik", solidified his position in the mafia following the arrests of two of his predecessors, Salvatore "Totò" Riina in 1993 and Bernardo Provenzano in 2006.  He is said to command close to 1000 underlings, through 20 mafia families and white collar business associates.  This  makes his Trapani-based enterprise the defacto zoccolo duro (solid pedestal) of the Cosa Nostra, second only to the families in Palermo responsible for illicit trafficking across the Atlantic between the new generations of the American and Sicilian Cosa Nostra.

Ruthless and calculating,  Denaro earned a reputation for brutality by murdering rival Trapani crime boss Vincenzo Milazzo, and then strangling Milazzo's girlfriend who was then three months pregnant. A fugitive since 1993, he was convicted in absentia for mafia bomb attacks that killed 10 people in Rome, Florence and Milan and wounded many others.

As is common among organized crime syndicates, Denaro saught to diversify his interests.  Wiretaps obtained by prosecutors suggest that the crime boss had interests in more than 40 corporate entities and 98 properties, laundering funds through various third parties and third party entities.

In 2013 anti-Mafia task force investigators seized a prized Trapani-based olive grove in Sicily worth €20m on the basis that profits from this agricultural enterprise provided an economic support structure for the fugitive crime boss. In 2015, 16, and 17 more arrests and seizures followed as the authorities work to cut off the revenue streams of the boss on the run.

Despite being a fugitive from justice, this entrepreneur mafioso with dirty hands is thought to be hiding in plain sight somewhere in Sicily,  perhaps even in his home town, Castelvetrano, where Becchina resides and where Denaro's relatives and a daughter, conceived while on the lam, reside.

Image Credit: Bellumvider Cultural Society
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To further dismantle Denaro's operational funding, this week Italy's Anti-Mafia Investigative Directorate (Dia), through the Court of Trapani's penal and preventive measures section, seized all movable assets,  including real estate and corporate enterprises attributable to Gianfranco Becchina on the basis of an order issued from the District Attorney of Palermo.  This includes Becchina's cement trade business, Atlas Cements Ltd., Olio verde srl., his own olive oil production company, Demetra srl., Becchina & company srl., and Palazzo Pignatelli, once the noble residence of the family Tagliavia-Aragona-Pignatelli, which is part of the ancient Castello Bellumvider (the public part is owned by the city and houses the town hall).  Investigators also seized Becchina's land, vehicles and bank accounts.

The Trapani branch of the Cosa Nostra is believed to have accumulated some portions of its wealth through the proceeds of illicit archaeological finds, many procured through grave robbers working at the isolated Archaeological Park of Selinunte, one of Sicily's great ancient Greek cities, located near Castelvetrano.  The archaeological site covers 40 hectares and includes Greek temples, ancient town walls, and the ruins of residential and commercial buildings and given its remote location, much of the site has not been formally excavated, leaving it prey to opportunistic looters.

Image Credit: Accademia degli incerti

The link from Matteo Messina Denaro to Gianfranco Becchina begins with Denaro's father,  Francesco Messina Denaro, who was the capo mandamento in Castelvetrano and the head of the mafia commission of the Trapani region. Francesco Messina Denaro was believed to have been behind the theft of the famous Efebo of Selinunte, a 3′ tall bronze statue of Dionysius Iachos from the 5th century BCE, stolen on October 30, 1962 and recovered in 1968 through the help of Rodolfo Siviero, who orchestrated a sting operation with mafia contacts by posing as the "nephew" of a Florentine art gallery that would purchase antiquities without asking too many questions about ownership.  When the mafia intermediaries tried to fence the statue in Foligno, six accomplices were arrested and the statue was returned to the Civic Museum of Castelvetrano, though not before a shootout with the authorities. 

Law enforcement authorities working on this case drew information about Becchina's connection to Cosa Nostra through former traffic cop, Concetto Mariano of the Cosa Nostra Marsala family. Mariano began cooperating with justice officials two months after being arrested.  A second informant, Giuseppe Grigoli, again a cooperating Cosa Nostra prestanome told the PM of the District Anti-Mafia Directorate of Palermo that between 1999 and 2006 he was given envelopes filled with money by Becchina, to be delivered discreetly to Vincenzo Panicola, the husband of Matteo Messina Denaro's sister Patrizia Messina Denaro, both of whom have been convicted for their own mafia collusion and have had substantial property holdings of their own confiscated.

The Dancing Satyr
Image Credit piazza Plebiscito Museum
A unnamed Marsala family informant also told law enforcement that he had been instructed by the head of his mafia command to steal the bronze statue of the Dancing Satyr, attributed by scholars to Praxiteles housed at the Piazza Plebiscito Museum in Mazara del Vallo.  The order for the theft (never executed) was said to have come directly from Matteo Messina Denaro, who would then be marketing it  through experienced Swiss channels.

Interestingly, this dancing satyr bronze was purportedly fished from the Strait of Sicily by a fishing boat from Mazara called the "Captain Ciccio" in 1997.  Mafioso Francesco Messina Denaro, also went by the name  "Don Ciccio"

Mere coincidence? 

Maybe, but along with the eight men of his crew, the captain and owner of the Captain Ciccio received a hefty reward for their fishing expedition.

Maybe, but along with the eight men of his crew, the captain and owner of the Captain Ciccio received a hefty reward for their fishing expedition.

Shipowner Toni Scilla received fifty percent; Francesco Adragna, as captain, received twenty-five percent; and the rest of the prize was divided between crew members in proportion to their job duties as boatswain, engineer, or shipmate.

UPDATE:  As of late morning a fire has broken out at Becchina's residence at Palazzo Pignatelli.   Reports say the fire occurred in his daughter's apartment during the execution of the DIA search warrant.  Investigators suspect that it was a Becchina family member intent on destroying certain documents.

No confirmation by the fire department yet as to if the fire was arson or accidental. 

February 11, 2017

Recovered: More paintings with ties to 'Ndràngheta

“Miracolo di Gesù” (guarigione del nato cieco) 
Italian law enforcement knew they were onto something when a search warrant executed on the apartment of a pensioner in Reggio Calabria turned up a religious painting. Cross checking the canvas, which depicted Christ healing a blind man, with images in "Leonardo", the Italian database of stolen cultural properties overseen by the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, the officers' search query came back with a positive match to a painting stolen in Randazzo, Sicily in 2001.

A second search warrant was then executed on another apartment in Messina, Sicily titled to the same individual where thirteen other artworks were recovered.

The artworks recovered in Messina are:

“Paesaggio” signed with the initials “a.s.”
“Uomo con Cappello” signed with the initials “bv”
“Natura Morta” by Giuliana Cappello
“Nudo di Donna” by Giuliana Cappello
“Tree and Head” by Salvator Dalì
“Figure su Sfondo Rosso”, by Renato Guttuso
“Combattimento Tra Due Galli” by Mario Pinizzotto
“Folla con Sfondo Sole Rosso e Volto Barbuto” by Mario Pinizzotto
“Pescatore” by Mario Pinizzotto
“Pescivendolo” by Mario Pinizzotto
“Veduta Urbana con Persone”, by Mario Pinizzotto
“Ponte Vecchio”
A bust of Christ 

The artworks are believed to be a small portion of the collection of 78 year old Calabrian businessman Gioacchino Campolo, who was sentenced in 2011 to 18 years house arrest for criminal association, extortion and usury jointly by the Casalesi clan of the Camorra and the De Stefano 'ndrina, one of the most powerful 'Ndràngheta clans in Reggio Calabria.

Gioacchino Campolo 
With an estimated €320 million in assets Campolo needed a creative form of investment.  He transformed his profits from crime and corruption into forty real estate holdings in Paris, Rome and Reggio Calabria and by buying noteworthy artworks. In 2013, the Italian government formally confiscated 125 works from his collection including paintings by Salvador Dalì, Giorgio De Chirico, Bonalumi, Carrà, Lucio Fontana, Renato Guttuso, Domenico Purificato, Rosai, Mario Sironi, Antonio Ligabue and many others.

Those art works are now part of a permanent exhibition titled “From shadow to light,” housed in a four thousand square meter gallery at the Palace of Culture in Reggio Calabria.

The owner of the properties where the 2017 recent cache of artworks were recovered has been charged with receiving stolen goods and is reported to possibly be a former employee.

By: Lynda Albertson

February 6, 2017

Press conference: The Van Gogh of the Camorra on display at the Capodimonte Museum in Naples

Via Miano, 2, 
80137 Naples, Italy

Live Periscope link to event

Image Credit: sAG
In a standing room only event, the two stolen paintings, View of the Sea at Scheveningen, 1882 and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen 1884 - 1885 by Vincent Van Gogh were presented to the international press today at the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples Italy.  This press conference follows the convictions of eight members of the international drug trafficking Amato-Pagano clan, an organized crime network once affiliated with the Secondigliano-based Di Lauro crime syndicate, and an offshoot of the Naples Camorra.  The historic artworks were recovered during a lengthy investigation into the cocaine business overseen by figurative, Raffaele Imperiale.

Image Credit: sAG
The paintings, stolen 14 years ago, will be hosted for just 20 days on the second floor of the Museo di Capodimonte next to the Hall of Caravaggio through February 26, 2017.

Image Credit: ARCA
On hand for the press conference were Antimo Cesaro, State Secretary for Cultural Assets and Activities and Tourism in Italy, Joep Wijnands, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Rome, Sander Bersée, Director General of Culture and Media of the Ministry of Culture and Science, the Netherlands, Luigi Riello, General Prosecutor of Naples, Giovanni Colangelo, the Public Prosecutor of Naples, Herman Bolhaar, Head of the Dutch Public Prosecutors, Lt. Gen. Giorgio Toschi, Commanding General of the Guardia di Finanza, Gen. B. Gianluigi D'Alfonso, Provincial Commander of the Guardia di Finanza in Italy, Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, Head of the Amsterdam Police as well as the undercover officers and investigators most closely connected to this case.

Image Credit: ARCA
Image Credit: ARCA
The Museo di Capodimonte is open every day except Wednesday from 08:30 to 19:30 (last entry at 18:30).

Image Credit: ARCA

Image Credit: sAG

Image Credit: sAG

Image Credit: sAG

Image Credit: Museo Capodimonte

Image Credit: Museo Capodimonte

Image Credit: VGM

Image Credit: VGM

Image Credit: VGM

Image Credit: VGM

Image Credit: VGM

Image Credit: ARCA

January 31, 2017

If paintings could talk...recovered Van Gogh paintings to go on exhibition in Naples February 6-26 before returning to the Van Gogh Museum

Dear Italian art lovers, 

Despite our lengthy stay in Campania and the hospitality of one of the Camorra's largest suppliers of cocaine to the Bay of Naples, it is, unfortunately, time for us to bid your country and its citizens farewell. 

Following the convictions handed down to our kidnappers, by Italian Judge Claudia Picciotti, we no longer need to remain as witnesses to testify to their crimes and have been informed by the judge that we are free to go home.

To show our appreciation to the fine officers of Italy's Corpo della Guardia di Finanza, which probes financial crimes related to organised crime, and to the Italian Public Prosecutions office, and to the Naples Direzione distrettuale antimafia and to the Dutch investigators who never gave up looking for us, our owners have persuaded us to stay in Naples for a few weeks longer.  

In this way, true art lovers, and not just mafia camorristi, can enjoy the beauty created by Vincent's fine hand.

Fourteen years and two months is a long time for us to be away from our beloved Netherlands and one of us desperately longs for the gentle touch of a conservator to help us heal from the wounds inflicted by our captors, not to mention the chance to shake this dust from our weary canvasses. 

Despite all that, and while we look forward with anticipation to returning to the Van Gogh Museum, we are happy that the director of the Museo di Capodimonte, Sylvain Bellenger and Axel Rüger, the director of the Van Gogh Museum, have encouraged us to remain for just a short while longer.  Under the care of their staff and advisors, we can rest and be exhibited in an atmosphere more befitting to us than a dusty crawl space behind a mafioso's workout gym. 

Being stolen when your famous only makes you more famous afterwards.  We suspect that for months, if not years to come, people will whisper about us, wondering what we went through and talking about the awful men who thought some day to use us, either for collateral or as a means to reduce their sentences for crimes worse than holding art hostage. 

But we as paintings prefer to dwell upon our younger and more carefree days, newly created on stretched canvas.  We like to remember when our paint was still wet and sand specks stuck to us in Scheveningen, the small fishing village where Vincent set up painting, partly to appease his brother Theo. Or when our Vincent began experimenting with colours to capture his mood at Nuenen, rather than using colours realistically.  Just like he sought, with his course application of paint, to define his own unique style, he brought each one of us to life giving each of us a little bit of his soul.  This is what we like to remember, not Vincent's tortured death and certainly not our time held captive by criminals. 

But enough of this talk about the past, let us try and stay in the present. 

Why don't you pay us a visit before we leave Naples for home?  

I am sure the fine people at the Capodimonte can point you to our room on the second floor.  From what we understand, we will be lodging with quite respectable company, in a room right next to the "Flagellation" by  Caravaggio. 

A hearty handshake in thought, and, believe me, 

View of the Sea at Scheveningen 
Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen


Exhibition Dates: 6-26 February
Via Miano, 2, 
80137 Naples, Italy
Hours: 08.30 to 19.30 daily, NOTE:  Museum is closed on Wednesdays
Ticket price: 8 €
Contacts and information: 081 7499111 

January 20, 2017

Camorra bosses convicted, Van Gogh's can go home to Amsterdam.......shortly.

This week Italian Judge Claudia Picciotti handed down more than one hundred years of prison time in the sentencing of eight members of the international drug trafficking Amato-Pagano clan, an organized crime network once affiliated with the Secondigliano-based Di Lauro crime syndicate, and an offshoot of the Naples Camorra.

The court's adjudication closes down one of the Camorra's largest suppliers of cocaine to the Bay of Naples area, paving the way for two recovered Van Gogh paintings, View of the Sea at Scheveningen, 1882 and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen 1884 - 1885 to return home to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. 

The paintings were recovered during an asset seizure warrant executed in September 2016 at property occupied by the parents of drug kingpin, Raffaele Imperiale in Castellammare di Stabia, near Naples, Italy.

On hand for the sentencing hearing of the trial were:

Prosecutor Stefania Castaldi
Prosecutor Maurizio De Marco
Prosecutor Marra Vincenza
Deputy Prosecutor Filippo Beatrice
Prosecutor of the National Anti-Mafia Directorate Maria Vittoria De Simone
Dutch Liaison Magistrate for Italy Hester van Bruggen
Assistant to the Liaison Magistrate for Italy Royal Netherlands Embassy, Rome Peter Hemmes
Van Gogh Museum Attorney Carel Raymakers

The defendants convicted and sentenced January 19, 2017 include:

Carmine Amato - Before his arrest, Amato was one of Italy's 100 most wanted and dangerous criminals.  Considered the regent of the Amato-Pagano clan, a splinter organised crime group of the Di Lauro clan, dominant in the north of Naples, Amato was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment.

Vincenzo Scarpa - Drug supplier to Camorra clans in the Vesuvius periphery of the Bay of Naples, including the Gallo-Cavalieri, the Annunziata from Torre Annunziata, the i Falanga of Torre del Greco and the Licciardi of Secondigliano.  Scarpa maintained key alliances with Camorra loyal suppliers based in Spain and the Netherlands. He has been sentenced to twenty years imprisonment.

(Fugitive) Raffaele Imperiale - Clan boss of the international drug trafficking Amato-Pagano clan which supplied cocaine to Amato and Scarpa.  Although on the run from the authorities, he admitted to purchasing the Van Gogh paintings and to his illegal operations in letters to the prosecuting authorities.  Imperiale was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment in absentia.  He is believed to be hiding in Dubai.

Mario Cerrone - Clan affiliate and business partner to Imperiale, who provided evidence to state authorities. Cerrone also led Italy's Corpo della Guardia di Finanza, which probes financial crimes related to organised crime, together with the Italian Public Prosecutions office, the Naples Direzione distrettuale antimafia and dedicated Dutch investigators to the whereabouts of the two stolen Vincent Van Gogh paintings.  He has been sentenced to 14 years imprisonment.

Gaetano Schettino - A loyalist and drug broker for Raffaele Imperial, he has been sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

Three unnamed defendants - Sentenced to eight years imprisonment respectively.

Six other defendants are still awaiting the outcome of their judicial proceedings in relation to this criminal investigation.

Originally expected to be held as evidence for future lengthy trials, the court in Naples elected to release the Van Gogh paintings from legal seizure on Thursday.  While talk continues between the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and Sylvain Bellenger, Director of the Museo di Capodimonte about the possibility of holding a brief exhibition in Naples, provided security measures are sufficient to guarantee their safety, the Dutch Impressionist's paintings are expected to be returned to Amsterdam as soon as February.

Once back home, the artworks will go on display at the Van Gogh Museum briefly, in the condition with which they were recovered, to celebrate their return. Then the artworks will undergo close examination and conservation treatment to clean and repair damages sustained during their trubulent time with the Italian crime syndicate.

By: Lynda Albertson

November 4, 2016

Anatomy of a Confession - How much are two stolen Van Gogh's worth to an alleged Naples drug kingpin?

In recent developments on the Van Gogh recovery in Italy case, the newspaper La Repubblica has announced that Italian prosecutors have been contacted by the office of Sylvain Bellenger, Director of the Museo di Capodimonte about the possibility of holding an exhibition in Naples of the two Vincent Van Gogh paintings recovered during an asset seizure warrant executed in the Bay of Naples involving alleged-drug kingpin Raffaele Imperiale.  

At present, both paintings are being held under high security as evidence in the criminal case against 14 indicted defendants, 12 in custody and two with outstanding extradition warrants. How long the paintings will remain in Italy while the lengthy court case proceeds remains unclear. 

Since ARCA reported on the initial stages of the Van Gogh paintings recovery, witness testimony and written statements have now been made public which shed more light onto what law enforcement officers and prosecutors know about this cocaine syndicate's "acquisition" of the stolen Van Gogh artworks. 

One time partner and indicted associate Mario Cerrone informed Italian authorities that Raffaele Imperiale purchased the paintings with illicit proceeds from the Amato-Pagano clan's coffers. The Amato-Pagano clan, is a organized crime network once affiliated with the Secondigliano-based Di Lauro clan. This organized crime group is known to have supplied the Bay of Naples area with a steady stream of cocaine distributed by dealers working with the Camorra crime syndicate.

In testimony given as state's evidence, Cerrone indicated that Imperiale purchased the two stolen Van Gogh paintings shortly after the time of their theft in the Netherlands, sometime between the Autumn of 2002 and the first months of 2003. Considering the purchases as investment, Imperiale probably believed he could launder clan funds buying the paintings, then resell the Van Goghs for more than his initial purchase price once the case had grown cold.  Cerrone estimated that the Amato-Pagano clan accumulated USD $15 million annually in illegal crime proceeds meaning that the paintings were a significant investment. 

As most of ARCA's regular blog readers understand, selling stolen masterpieces on the licit art market is virtually impossible. From this we can hypothesize that Imperiale may have held onto the paintings following the arrest of the two thieves in the Netherlands, while planning how to use the artworks as a bargaining chip in replacement for illicit revenue.  

Given the artworks inestimable value, the paintings could have been used as collateral for the purchase of drugs, weapons, counterfeit goods or other clan-needed commodities, or for reducing the amount of liquid capital the clan would need to transfer during any given transaction making them a good substitute for reducing the clans exposure and risk.  As a final alternative, the paintings represented a bargaining tool with prosecutors for if and when members of the clan who knew about them, were arrested. 

Ironically, Raffaele Imperiale himself has now added more information to the puzzle by writing a six page written statement/confession/memoir which he sent from Dubai to the Naples prosecutors, Vincenza Marra, Stefania Castaldi and Maurizio De Marco, who along with the deputy prosecutor Filippo Beatrice and the prosecutor of the National Anti-Mafia Directorate Maria Vittoria De Simone coordinated the investigations conducted by law enforcement.  In his statement, the unrepentant Imperiale informed prosecutors that he has selected two lawyers to represent him, Maurizio Frizzi and Giovanni Ricco. Both Genovese attorneys have relationships with the Amato-Pagano clan.

In addition to naming his lawyers, and perhaps in consideration of lighter sentencing if convicted, Imperiale's statement went on to outline various aspects of his organization's illicit operation.  A direct quote from the clan leader's autobiographical confession, in which he implicates himself in organized crime and drug trafficking, is translated here:

Left - Raffaele Amato 
Top Right- Paolo de Lauro 
Middle Right - Mario Cerrone 
Bottom Right - Cesare Pagano

Imperiale went on to say that he had decided to collaborate with justice by giving his seized "treasure" to the state.  Some of the seized property include thirteen terraced villas in Terracina as well as twelve villas in Giugliano, five of which are ironically, subleased out to NATO under a shell corporation.  In addition to the real estate Imperial also plans to leave the Italian state a fleet of expensive cars  "to be allocated to law enforcement agencies for the fight against organized crime."

When speaking in relation to the stolen Van Gogh paintings, Imperiale indicated that he had purchased (without explaining from whom) "some goods", not simply the two Van Gogh paintings, paying five installments of one million euros each for a total of €10 million for both paintings.   

Sketch of Raffaele Imperiale in Dubai
Imperiale is currently still a fugitive, believed to be living in an undisclosed location in Dubai.  To date, the United Arab has responded negatively to requests for extradition, citing repeated technicalities in paperwork emanating from the Italian court system.

By: Lynda Albertson