Few would recognize Matteo Messina Denaro on the street, but the Cosa Nostra leader is one of the most sought-after fugitives on the planet.
His reign of terror amped up in 1993, after authorities tracked down and arrested Sicilian mafia boss Salvatore “Toto” Riina, who had spent 23 years on the lam, in Palermo, Italy. Soon after, his protégé Denaro allegedly played a key role in making sure there would be hell to pay for the pinch.
The revenge run was “an attack on Italy [and] Denaro’s craziest crime,” Cyprien d’Haese, co-director of a new episode of Netflix’s “World’s Most Wanted” that dropped Wednesday, told The Post. Denaro and his blood-thirsty crew “put bombs in Milan, Rome and Florence. They blew up national monuments and a museum,” d’Haese added. “It was their way of saying, ‘We are so powerful. We can get anyone anywhere.’ ”
A precociously violent “baby-killer who learned to use a gun at the age of 14,” according to d’Haese, Denaro allegedly assumed the godfather mantle in 2007, following the arrest of previous leader Bernardo Provenzano.
Denaro is a handsome ladies man, whose tinted shades hide slightly crossed “feline eyes.” He is said to be worth billions, favors fancy wristwatches, owns a pack of Porsches and strictly avoids the camera lens.
He’s been running since the ’93 bombings and, as an Italian law enforcer said on the show, “Matteo Messina Denaro is the most wanted fugitive in the Cosa Nostra.” His specialties? Homicide, arson and terrorism. He’s even earned the nickname Diabolik, ripped from an unscrupulous Italian comic-book criminal.
It’s a role that Denaro, 58, was born to play. His father, a high-ranking mafioso, handed him over to Riina for a bloody apprenticeship that began around his 18th birthday. Denaro quickly established himself as a reliable foot soldier with a penchant for murder. “Riina loved him,” said d’Haese. “Denaro was told to kill and he killed.”
The documentary claims that Denaro brags about having “killed enough people to fill a small cemetery.” Among his victims: the young boy of a turncoat who seemed poised to testify against the mob, and a hotel manager with an eye for a woman whom Denaro fancied. He even had a hand in murdering a pair of anti-Mafia judges. As one of them drove home from an airport in Sicily, a stretch of highway was blown up beneath him. The job was said to have taken 1,100 to 2,000 pounds of explosives.
With a scary reputation that keeps people in line — when authorities arrested Denaro’s girlfriend and sister, they both did their time and stayed mum about Diabolik — he’s said to masterfully manage a core mob business. The UK Daily Mirror describes Denaro as the mastermind of heroin and cocaine importation into Europe from South America.
He’s also muscled his way into legit industries such as green energy and online gambling, both of which he’s used to earn profits and launder dirty money.
A few years ago, according to d’Haese, a judge tried to prove that Denaro owns a Sicilian chain of supermarkets. “Some people say he creates jobs by running legitimate businesses,” said the documentary director. “But Denaro has too much blood on his hands to be legitimate.”
For all of Denaro’s money and power and fearsomeness, is he living like the rich and famous? Is it good to be a kingpin? “People say he does not have a good life,” d’Haese told The Post. “They think he is on a small farm, hiding and frightened. He cannot have a good life because so many people are after him.”
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