Italian authorities said Tuesday they had dismantled the rebuilt upper echelons of the Sicilian Mafia by arresting 46 people including the presumed new regional boss who took over after the death of the "boss of bosses" Salvatore "Toto" Riina.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini called the sweep an "extraordinary operation" in the Sicilian capital, Palermo.
Based on wiretaps, police determined that during a May 29 meeting of clan leaders in Palermo, Settimo Mineo had been elected head of the "cupola," the mob leadership. It was the first time clan leaders had gathered in such a forum for years, and followed the November 2017 death of Riina, prosecutors said.
Italy's chief anti-Mafia prosecutor, Cafiero De Raho, said the election of Mineo, 80, was significant because it showed that the center of power of the Sicilian Mafia had shifted to Palermo from Corleone, its longtime base that was made famous by novelist Mario Puzo, who used the town's name for the main character in his 1969 novel "The Godfather."
Palermo prosecutor Francesco Lo Voi recalled that Mineo had already served a lengthy prison sentence for Mafia association and other crimes after he was swept up in the maxi-trials against the Sicilian Mafia in the 1980s and 1990s. As the eldest of the local clan leaders, he enjoyed particular respect, he said.
"This is a sign that Cosa Nostra doesn't abandon its rules," Lo Voi told a press conference. "And that despite the convictions, despite the trials, important people can take over the most important roles once they're back in play."
Those arrested are suspected of mafia association, extortion, weapons violations and other charges, police said.
After Riina's 1993 arrest, the Sicilian Mafia saw a degree of marginalization compared with the Calabrian-based 'ndrangheta organized crime syndicate or the Neapolitan Camorra. But Italian officials said it nevertheless continued increasing its financial and business activities.
Salvini said in a tweet that the operation had "dismantled the new 'cupola' of Cosa Nostra."