Mafia defies Italy’s coronavirus lockdown

Special Mafia defies Italy’s coronavirus lockdown
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A Sicilian funeral for the brother of mafia boss Luigi Sparacio is said to have broken COVID-19 lockdown laws. (Twitter)
Special Mafia defies Italy’s coronavirus lockdown
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Police guard the entrance to a shop in Herculaneum near Naples, where the mafia has a considerable presence. (Reuters)
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Updated 16 April 2020

Mafia defies Italy’s coronavirus lockdown

Mafia defies Italy’s coronavirus lockdown
  • Photographs showed a funeral procession moving along the streets of Messina, the third largest city in Sicily

ROME: Mafia godfathers seem not to care about the coronavirus as Italian prosecutors investigate the funeral in Sicily of the brother of a former mob boss for allegedly breaching Italy’s COVID-19 lockdown.

According to Franco Roberti, the former national anti-mafia chief prosecutor, the mob may have decided to hold the funeral to demonstrate that they are still powerful — and that in Sicily organized crime is above the law.

Photographs showed a funeral procession moving along the streets of Messina, the third largest city in Sicily, attended by dozens of people.



Family and friends gathered to accompany the coffin carrying Rosario Sparacio, 70, the older brother of Luigi Sparacio, who was considered one of the most important heads of the Cosa Nostra in the 1990s and who eventually turned supergrass.

“Zio Sarino,” as the mobster was nicknamed in Messina, had been convicted of several extortions, while his son Salvatore was convicted of mafia-type criminal offenses and is believed to be affiliated with the Centorrino, Santovito, D’Arrigo clan.

The dead man’s brother, Luigi Sparacio, was once close to the Sicilian boss of bosses, Nitto Santapaola.

Sparacio was also in charge of maintaining the Cosa Nostra’s relations with the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta mafia on the Italian mainland before, in 1994, he decided to work with the authorities and reveal the secrets of the mob, along with the names of its several affiliates. Some of the people Sparacio accused are now serving life sentences in Italian prisons.

The news, first reported by the local newspaper La Gazzetta del Sud, has sparked a row in Italy where all religious gatherings, including funerals and weddings, have been banned by government decree since the beginning of March to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

In the cities hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, coffins are awaiting burial, held in churches or in refrigerators, and the corpses of those who have died at home are being kept in sealed rooms as there are not enough crematories.

A funeral service is believed to have sparked one of the worst infection waves in San Marco in Lamis, a village in southern Italy; after the ceremony 500 people were infected and nearly 100 died of the coronavirus.

“People not only congregate in churches at funerals, but they even kiss each other in southern regions to express their condolences to the dead’s family,” Riccardo Pace, a sociologist, said.

No church funeral has been allowed since the lockdown started. Catholic priests can only bless the coffins once they are privately taken to cemeteries to be buried immediately.

That did not happen with Rosario Sparacio’s body. A spontaneous procession of family and friends who followed the car carrying the coffin was seen moving through one of the most populated streets in the city.

The police noticed the “gathering,” dispersed the crowd and opened an investigation to ascertain the identity of those present and sanction the illegal assembly.

“While in Italy there are no funerals and weddings, how is it possible that in Messina dozens of people accompanied the dead body of the brother of a mafia boss to the cemetery? Claudio Fava, president of the anti-mafia committee in the Sicilian regional parliament, asked. “Behind that coffin “there were cars, motorbikes and friends,” he told Arab News.

Rosario Sparacio’s family criticized the press and politicians after the row broke out over the funeral.

“You must leave us alone in our pain, we have not taken anything from anyone,” wrote one of the relatives on Facebook. “We are good people. If we really were those mafia bosses you proclaim so much, you wouldn’t dare to attack us.”

But the point made by the relatives of “Zio Sarino” does not convince former anti-mafia prosecutor Roberti.

“It was clearly a sign. They feel almighty. They feel they are above the law simply because they believe Cosa Nostra is the law in Sicily. So they feel they can do whatever they want. Even putting at risk of infections those who decided, freely or not, to join that procession and show their respect to the mafiaman,” Roberti, who is now a member of the European Parliament for the European Socialist Party, told Arab News.

“They feel they are so powerful they can dispose of people’s life. I am sure that most of those following the coffin received money from Cosa Nostra in the hard times of the coronavirus infection. That’s for them a way to thank the mob’s charity,” he said.