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Provenzano Arrested
Provenzano Arrested

Secret Mafia Notes Reveal New 'Godfather'
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April 25, 2006 — Bernardo Provenzano, the now jailed "boss of bosses" of the Sicilian Mafia, appointed his Godfather successor before his arrest, the Italian daily La Stampa reported on Tuesday.

Provenzano's heir was Matteo Messina Denaro, according to a close investigation into hundreds of pizzini — notes written on little pieces of paper — found in Provenzano's hideout just a few miles from his Sicilian hometown of Corleone.

"The investiture can be found in one of the pizzini written a few weeks before Provenzano's arrest," La Stampa wrote.

Messina Denaro, who will turn 44 on Wednesday, comes from the provincial city of Castelvetrano near Trapani.

On the run for 13 years, he is known as the "playboy boss" for his love for girlfriends, gold watches, and fast cars.


Hideout House
Hideout House

The yuppie-style Messina Denaro sealed his reputation by murdering a rival Trapani boss and strangling his pregnant girlfriend.

The police found many pizzini written by Messina Denaro to Provenzano. Signed with the name "Alessio," all notes featured deferential respect for the old boss. "Alessio" Messina Denaro always promised to be at Provenzano's disposal.

"Your friends are my friends…I trust your honesty and capacity, as I did earlier with T.T.R," Messina Denaro wrote to Provenzano.

The rather badly coded name refers to the initials of Toto Riina, the Sicilian Mafia's No. 1 Don before Provenzano. Messina Denaro even reported that "T.T.R. wrote me" reaasuring that "it is all OK."

"These pizzini are revealing very disquieting aspects ... Riina is supposed to be in strict isolation. Certainly, he should not be able to send notes to his mobster companions," Ernesto Oliva, co-author of the forthcoming book "Provenzano: the Accountant of Cosa Nostra," told Discovery News.

Investigators are working hard on the newly found number-filled pizzini. The arrest in 2002 of Antonio Giuffré, one of Provenzano's right-hand men then turned informer, helped the police to decode many pizzini.

Once the cryptograms were decoded, several members of Provenzano's close circle were identified, a step which ultimately led to his arrest.

The Caesar Code
At least one coded note, written in January 2001 by Angelo Provenzano, had a strong resemblance to what's known as Caesar cipher, an encryption scheme used by Julius Caesar to protect important military messages.

While the classic Caesar cipher moves everything three letters later (A becomes D, B becomes E, etc.), the "Provenzano code" assigned a number to each letter by simply increasing by 3 the value given to the 21 letters of the Italian alphabet listed in order.

So, A becomes 4 (1+3), B becomes 5 (2+3), C becomes 6 (3+3), etc.

But after the arrest of Giuffré, Provenzano could not trust the old code anymore and turned to new cryptography keys.

"It might be that the new key is in Provenzano's Bible, filled with notes and underscorings. It appears that certain words in the Bible were associated with numbers in the pizzini," Oliva said.

Oliva, who also co-authored www.bernardoprovenzano.net, the most exhaustive Web site on the old boss, is cautious about Messina Denaro being Provenzano's successor.

"We will have to see what happens next. If there isn't any Mafia war, it might be true that Provenzano himself named Messina Denaro as his successor. But he is from Trapani, and this might have ruled him out. Since the 1960s, all the bosses — Luciano Liggio, Riina and Provenzano — came from Corleone," Oliva said.

If the new Godfather is Messina Denaro, it is likely that he will encode his notes with more sophisticated tools.

While Provenzano ran top Mafia businesses on an obsolete Olivetti Lettera 32 typewriter, with pizzini slowly delivered by a chain of messengers, Messina Denaro, a keen Nintendo game player, wrote his pizzini using a computer.

"One of the clues that helped the police to identify these Alessio note as by Messina Denaro was the perfect use of the Italian grammar. Only Messina Denaro could have written them," Oliva said.

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Picture: AP Photo/Italian Police | AP Photo/Luca Bruno |
Contributers: Rossella Lorenzi |

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