In July 2017, a group of people attacked a statue in a neighborhood of San Filippo Neri in Palermo. They destroyed the marble statue of Giovanni Falcone. Not content with that, they took the head of the statue and slammed it into the gate of a nearby school, named after Falcone.
Even 25 years after his death the judge who did more than anyone to bring hundreds of Sicilian mobsters to justice is still hated by some.
‘The insult to Falcone’s memory is the work of a coward,’ said Paolo Gentiloni, the former Italian prime minister. No one had seen or heard of such a thing.
They called it the “Maxi Trial,” the largest trial ever held in the world. The trial began in February 1986 and lasted for almost two years, but did not actually end until January 1992. The trial took place in a concrete bunker, next to the Uccardione prison in Palermo, reports abcnews.al
A total of 475 people have been indicted for crimes committed by the Sicilian mafia. The defendants ranged from lesser-known personalities to some of the top figures in the ruthless network of crime syndicates.
They were sentenced to 2,700 years in prison, a major blow to organized crime in the region and beyond, the consequences of which are still being felt today. The main figure of the “Maxi Trial” was Giovanni Falcone, a man who knew Sicily, knew Palermo and knew many of the people he was prosecuting.
‘I grew up in the same neighborhoods,’ he said. ‘I know how a Sicilian mind works.’
While Falcone was one of the right judges to bring to justice hundreds of people whose murderous activities had filled Sicily with crime and fear for generations, it was precisely his success in turning a major Mafia figure into an informant who paved the way to justice.
Tommaso Buscetta was a major player in the drug smuggling network headed between Italy, Brazil and the United States, but when several members of his family were killed in mafia disputes he decided to turn into an informant, provided he spoke only with Falcone.
For six weeks in 1984 Buscetta testified by revealing more about the interior work of the Cosa Nostra. Essentially, Falcone provided the first confirmation that the Sicilian mafia was in fact an organization with a defined hierarchy, not a federation of family groups that responded only to themselves.
Falcone’s talks with Buscetta led to the arrest of more than 350 people, including Michele Greco, the provincial head of the Sicilian Mafia Commission. ‘Before Buscetta’s testimony we had only a superficial idea of the Mafia phenomenon,’ Falcone said.
‘Through him we began to see within the organization. He gave us a lot of information about the structure, recruitment techniques and functions of the Cosa Nostra. Above all he gave us a broad, global vision, with a wide range of phenomena – an essential key, a language, a code. ‘
For the first time the issue of the Cosa Nostra towards Sicilian society was being resolved in detail, coordinated by a man who had grown up next to many of them. Even in school Giovanni Falcone was known for his sense of right and wrong and his willingness to do justice.
With Sicilian pride, after joining the Navy, he stayed on the island to study law at the University of Palermo and was appointed a judge in 1964. In the early 1980s he joined the Ufficio istruzione, the investigative branch of the Palermo prosecutor’s office. 3 months after taking office, he was in charge of the murder case of the head of the department, Cesare Terranova.
Falcone immediately launched an investigation into global heroin smuggling networks from Sicily. Falcone selected intricate chains and branches of financial transactions in Italy and beyond that led to 74 arrests and sparked a major disruption to the world drug trade.
It was dangerous work and Falcone knew it. Gaetano Costa, the judge who signed the arrest warrants for the heroin case, was shot dead a few days later. In the spring of 1982 Pio La Torre died in a barrage of bullets on a Palermo street. In the same year the Italian government sent Carlo Alberto della Chiesa, a Carabinieri general, to Sicily to take control of the mafia and within weeks he and his wife were killed on the way to a restaurant, reports abcnews.al
Falcone got used to this life. The windows in his house were filled with sandbags, he traveled everywhere in bullet-proof vehicles and in 1986 he married magistrate Francesca Morvillo in a secret ceremony.
Three years later, as he was investigating a series of Swiss bank accounts linked to mafia activity, a bomb was found on the premises of a villa Falcone had rented off the north coast of Sicily. Despite the successes, for all his work and determination to stay on the island he wanted, Falcone became more and more disappointed.
Not for his life, but with the political parochialism that escalated the island bureaucracy. He refused the post of chief prosecutor of Sicily despite being the right candidate. There were even attempts to oust Falcone, accusing him of domestic abuse and low-level criminal activity, until in the spring of 1991 he was appointed director general of internal affairs at the Ministry of Justice in Rome.
Falcone set up a national body to fight organized crime over a network of regional organizations. His new job also helped him reassure everyone that the Maxi Trial would eliminate corruption and notorious Italian bureaucracies, reports abcnews.al
On May 23, 1992, Falcone and his wife traveled to Palermo on a private jet. They drove to their home in an armored car and as they approached the turn for Capaci, a bomb placed in their car exploded with a remote control.
Falcone, Francesca and three police officers were killed in an explosion so powerful that most compared it to an earthquake. A few weeks after Falcone’s murder, his friend and colleague prosecutor Paolo Borsellino was also killed.
The two deaths both led to a major public outcry and a great lack of trust in politicians. After that, the authorities launched one of the biggest mafia operations that led to the arrest and conviction of King Salvatore Riina, the man who had ordered the bombing in Capaci.
A few months before he was killed, Falcone had given an interview to a French newspaper. “I opened an account with the Mafia and this can only be closed with my death.” / Translated by Sonila Backa-abcnews.al