Coronavirus: Italy releases several ageing mafia bosses from prison
Sicily’s anti-mafia commission president Claudio Fava said he fears that mafia bosses could leverage the coronavirus crisis to secure their release.
Amid the risk of COVID-19 infection, Italy has released several mafia bosses from prison under a new regulation. Italy's anti-mafia prosecutor Federico Cafiero De Raho said that to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus within correctional facilities, the government authorized magistrates to transfer inmates who have 18 months or less in their sentences to house arrest.
Francesco Bonura, an influential boss in the Sicilian Cosa Nostra; Vincenzo Iannazzo, a member of the Ndrangheta; and Pasquale Zagaria, a member of the Casalesi clan, have now been moved to house arrest.
This comes as the death toll from the novel coronavirus in Italy -- the hardest-hit country in Europe -- crossed 26,380. The country has more than 195,300 positive cases.
Cafiero De Raho said the three men had been held under "extra isolation measures" to avoid contact with people outside the prison because of the roles they had in mafia organizations. "Once they are sent back home, these measures are obviously no longer enforced," the prosecutor added.
Bonura, 78, was sentenced to 23 years in prison for charges linked to his role in a mafia organization and was serving only nine more months in prison. The terms of Bonura’s release to house arrest allow his movement for health-related appointments.
Iannazzo, 65, was sentenced in 2018 to more than 14 years in prison for charges of being an accomplice of a mafia syndicate.
He is also known as a powerful clan leader in the city of Lamezia Terme.
Zagaria was arrested in 2007 and sentenced to 20 years in prison as a member of a mafia organization. He was considered the financial mind behind the Casalesi clan.
The release of mafia bosses has met criticism in Italy. In recent weeks judges also ordered the release from prison of 72-year-old Calabrian boss Rocco Santo Filippone.
"That is crazy," Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italian opposition party the Lega, said in a Facebook video. "It's a lack of respect for people, magistrates, journalists, policemen and victims of the mafia."
Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede said the decision to release inmates is taken by magistrates in an "autonomous and independent way" but authorities are considering a proposal to involve the nation's anti-mafia department in the final decision.
"In this moment of crisis, mafia organizations can further infiltrate economic life, especially by supporting or even acquiring businesses in financial difficulties that aren't able to access public aid and are therefore obliged to turn to alternative credit sources, those of the criminal organizations," Cafiero De Raho, the prosecutor, told CNN.
The total number of prisoners in Italy has dropped by 6,500 since February 29, according to the Justice Ministry.
Alessio Scandurra, coordinator of Antigone, a prisoner's rights association, said the coronavirus regulations and other factors are behind the decrease in inmate population.
According to a Guardian report, there are currently 74 bosses over 70 and with serious health conditions held under article 41-bis of the Italian penal code, which allows the authorities to suspend usual prison entitlements with the aim of severing ties with criminal associates on the outside.
These prisoners include Leoluca Bagarella, 78, a Sicilian boss responsible for dozens of homicides; Raffaele Cutolo, 78, the leader of the Nuova Camorra Organizzata, currently serving multiple life sentences for murder; the bloodstained bosses of the Bellocco clan of the ’Ndrangheta and the Sicilian “boss of bosses” Nitto Santapaola, 81.
The president of Sicily’s antimafia commission, Claudio Fava, says he fears that mafia bosses could leverage the coronavirus crisis to secure their release.