TOAt 5:57 p.m. on May 23, 1992, a car carrying Sicilian mafia prosecutor Giovanni Falcone was thrown into the air when a powerful explosion ripped through a 15-meter crater on the highway that connects Palermo with its airport. On a hillside overlooking the devastation stood one of the mob’s most notorious killers, Giovanni Brusca, nicknamed the scannacristiani (the people killer), which milliseconds earlier had detonated the 300 kilos of explosive placed in a culvert under the road. He killed Falcone, his wife, Francesca Morvillo, and three escort officers.
Brusca, 64, who is believed to have murdered more than 100 people before breaking omertà’s oath and becoming a police informant, was released after 25 years in prison last week, thanks to a law championed by Falcone. .
The news sparked a scandal in Italy, where numerous far-right politicians and parties called his release scandalous and lobbied for changes to the law granting sentence reductions to the “repentant” gangsters, even though such measures have proven effective in converting hundreds of gangsters and breaking the power of the Cosa Nostra of Sicily.
“I am speechless when I think that Brusca is a free man” said Nello Musemeci, the governor of the island. “People say, ‘That’s the law’; but if it is clearly wrong, it must be changed. “
Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League, described it as “not the justice Italians deserveWhile Giorgia Meloni, rising star of the extreme right, declared: “Twenty-five years is not enough.”
Brusca is a confessed murderer like few others. “I am an animal. I have killed more than 150 people and I don’t even remember their names. ” told prosecutors after becoming an informant. Among his most heinous crimes is the kidnapping and murder of an 11-year-old boy, whom Brusca ordered to strangle and dissolve in acid.
Despite his violent past, magistrates and jurists agree that without the now controversial law pioneered by Falcone, his highest-profile victim, Brusca would not have spent a day in prison. The number one murderer of Cosa Nostra was arrested on May 20, 1996 in a village in the province of Agrigento, thanks to information provided to the police by three former gangsters.
“The outrage of relatives of mob victims is certainly understandable,” said Giuseppe Di Lello, a former colleague of Falcone and a member of the anti-mafia “group” of investigators in the 1980s. “Without this law, we would never have solved hundreds of crimes. This law is nothing more than a pact with ex-criminals in exchange for key information in the fight against organized crime. And like any pact, there is a compensation. ”
But Brusca’s early release is a bitter pill for him. families of their victims. “Few people can feel more pain than I can towards one of the most disgusting people in the history of our country,” Maria Falcone, Giovanni’s sister, told The Guardian. “But my brother fought hard for this law, which has led to the resolution of dozens of crimes and the arrest of numerous mobsters.”
Falcone first proposed a law to formally establish the figure of the “collaborator of justice”, who, in the early 1980s, understood the effectiveness of uprooting mafia clans from within their own ranks.
When in 1984 he convinced Tommaso Buscetta, nicknamed the “Chief of the Two Worlds”, to testify against fellow gangsters, the Italian authorities knew little about the Sicilian mafia. Falcone thought that Buscetta had nothing to lose since his rivals had already murdered his two children, followed by a brother, a son-in-law, a brother-in-law and four nephews and what he revealed to the prosecutor were the internal mechanisms. of the Costa Nostra: its rituals, organizational structures and illegal activities.
Thanks to his testimony, prosecutors ordered the arrest of nearly 500 gangsters, culminating in the so-called “Maxi trial” which resulted in guilty verdicts for 338 criminals.
Since then, hundreds of mobsters across Italy have begun collaborating with magistrates and breaking omertà, the once impregnable mafia code of silence. But as the number of informants has grown, public opinion has become less tolerant of sentence reductions for mobsters, who have been accused of manipulating the system to their advantage and never truly repenting of their crimes.
“Sentence reductions are based on a pact, not on repentance,” said Claudio Fava, chairman of Sicily’s anti-mafia commission and son of the late journalist Giuseppe, assassinated by the mafia in 1984.
“The state is not responsible for verifying the sincerity of the repentance. It is not a confessional. It is clear that 90% of gangsters who become informants do so for a matter of strategy. My father was killed by a man who murdered more than 85 people and who was released last year after becoming an informant. I have nothing good to say about him, but thanks to his testimony, my father’s unsolved case was reopened after 10 years. “
Almost all the major gangsters are now in prison thanks to Falcone, whose whistleblower law has also led to the arrest of members of Calabria’s’ Ndrangheta, considered the most powerful organized crime syndicate in Italy and characterized by strong blood relations and a code of iron silence, making it practically impenetrable. In recent ongoing trials in Calabria, brothers, nephews and children have decided to report suspected criminal relatives.
“If the Sicilian mafia is weaker today, we owe a debt of gratitude to my brother and his law,” said Maria Falcone. “Abolishing it would mean turning the clock back 30 years. It would mean that my brother’s fight was in vain. “