Messina Denaro used the pseudonym "Alessio" in his clandestine correspondence with former Mafia boss Provenzano. He suffers from severe myopia and received treatment for this condition at a clinic in Barcelona, Spain, in 1994 and 1996.
Messina Denaro is often portrayed as a ruthless playboy mafioso and womaniser, driving an expensive Porsche sports car, wearing a Rolex Daytona watch, Ray Ban sunglasses and fancy clothes from Giorgio Armani and Versace. He is an ardent player of computer games and is said to have an illegitimate child. Matteo has a reputation for fast living and allegedly killed a Sicilian hotel owner who accused him of taking young girls to bed. As such, he is remarkably different from traditional Mafia bosses like Salvatore Riina and Bernardo Provenzano who strictly adhere to conservative family values.
Matteo Messina Denaro was born into a mafia family in Castelvetrano in the province of Trapani, Sicily. His father Francesco Messina Denaro, known as Don Ciccio, was the capo mandamento of Castelvetrano and the head of the Mafia Commission of the Trapani region. Matteo learned to use a gun at 14, and committed his first of many murders at 18. He is estimated to have killed at least 50 people. "I filled a cemetery all by myself," he once bragged. He made a reputation by murdering rival boss Vincenzo Milazzo from Alcamo and strangling Milazzo’s three-months pregnant girlfriend.
His father started as a campiere (armed guard) of the D’Alì family, wealthy landowners who were among the founders of the Banco Sicula. He became the fattore (overseer of an estate) of the D’Alì land holdings. They handed over a significant estate in the area Zangara (Castelvetrano) to Messina Denaro. However, the real new owner turned out to be Salvatore Riina, with whom Messina Denaro was allied.
Antonio D'Alì Sr. had to resign from the board of the Banco Sicula in 1983 because he appeared on the list of the secret freemason lodge Propaganda Due (P2) of Licio Gelli. His son Antonio D'Alì jr. became a senator for Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party in 1996, and in April 2001 under-secretary at the Ministry of the Interior, the institution responsible for fighting organised crime. His cousin Giacomo D’Alì is a counsellor of the Banca Commerciale Italiana (Comit) in Milan, which acquired the Banca Sicula in 1991. Matteo’s brother Salvatore Messina Denaro, arrested in November 1998, worked at the Banca Sicula and continued to work for Comit.
Messina Denaro gets his money through an extensive extortion racket forcing businesses to pay a pizzo (protection money) and skimming off public construction contracts (the family owns substantial sand quarries). He is also active in the international drug trade, allegedly with the Cuntrera-Caruana clan, attracting attention of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
According to the Direzione distrettuale antimafia (DDA) of Palermo, he maintains contacts with relatives in Western New York and Vito Roberto Palazzolo, a fugitive Mafia boss in South Africa. He also has interests in Venezuela and contacts with Colombian drug trafficking cartels as well as the 'Ndrangheta. His illicit networks extend to Belgium and Germany.
Matteo Messina Denaro has strong links with Mafia families in Palermo, in particular in Brancaccio, territory of the Graviano Family. Filippo Guttadauro the brother of the Giuseppe Guttadauro – the regent of the Brancaccio Mafia while Giuseppe Graviano and Filippo Graviano are in jail – is the brother-in-law of Messina Denaro. They are involved in cocaine trafficking in agreement with ‘Ndrangheta clans from Platì, Marina di Gioiosa Ionica and Siderno, as well as the Mafia family of Mariano Agate.
The remaining Mafia bosses, among them Matteo Messina Denaro, Giovanni Brusca, Leoluca Bagarella, Antonino Gioè, Giuseppe Graviano and Gioacchino La Barbera, met several times (often in the Santa Flavia area in Bagheria on an estate owned by the mafioso Leonardo Greco). They decided on a strategy to force the Italian state to retreat. That resulted in a series of bomb attacks in the Via dei Georgofili in Florence, in Via Palestro in Milan, in the Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano and Via San Teodoro in Rome, which left 10 people dead and 93 injured as well as damage to centres of cultural heritage such as the Uffizi Gallery.
Messina Denaro also tailed the TV-journalist Maurizio Costanzo, host of the Maurizio Costanzo Show, who just escaped a car-bomb attack on May 14 1993. Apparently he also observed the movements of Giovanni Falcone and the Minister of Justice, Claudio Martelli, in 1991. After the 1993 bombings Messina Denaro went into hiding and has not been seen since. On May 6, 2002, he received a life-time sentence (in absentia) for his role in the terrorist attacks of 1993.
In June 2000, a law enforcement operation led to the arrest of several individuals who assisted the fugitive Matteo Messina Denaro and discovered two residences where he had found shelter. One of this residences was located in an area of the city of Bagheria (in the province of Palermo), while the other was in the Brancaccio area of Palermo. Since one of the main rules within the Mafia is that a fugitive should hide in a friendly area, there is reason to believe that Messina Denaro has a good relationship to both Provenzano and the Gravianos.
After the arrest of Bernardo Provenzano on April 11, 2006, Matteo Messina Denaro is often mentioned as his successor. His main rivals are supposed to be Salvatore Lo Piccolo – boss of the mandamento of San Lorenzo in Palermo – and Mimmo Raccuglia from Altofonte. Allegedly Provenzano nominated Messina Denaro in one of his pizzini – small slips of paper used to communicate with other mafiosi to avoid phone conversations.
This presupposes that Provenzano has the power to nominate a successor, which is not unanimously accepted among Mafia observers. "The Mafia today is more of a federation and less of an authoritarian state," according to anti-Mafia prosecutor Antonio Ingroia of the Direzione distrettuale antimafia (DDA) of Palermo, referring to the previous period of authoritarian rule under Salvatore Riina. Provenzano "established a kind of directorate of about four to seven people who met very infrequently, only when necessary, when there were strategic decisions to make."
According to Ingroia "in an organization like the Mafia, a boss has to be one step above the others otherwise it all falls apart. It all depends on if he can manage consensus and if the others agree or rebel." Provenzano "guaranteed a measure of stability because he had the authority to quash internal disputes." According to Sergio Lari, deputy chief prosecutor of Palermo: "Either the directorate can choose a successor or we could again be in for a fiery time."
Ingroia said that it was unlikely that there would be an all-out war over who would fill Provenzano's shoes. "Right now I don't think that's probable," he said. Of the two possible successors, Ingroia thought Lo Piccolo was the more likely heir to the Mafia throne. "He's from Palermo, and that's still the most powerful Mafia stronghold," Ingroia said.
The police believes that Messina Denaro is hiding out close to his family home at Castelvetrano, and is moving between safe houses.