A mobster-turned-state witness has returned to Sicily despite being denied police protection and is calling for a revolution in witness-protection programmes which would allow collaborators to go home rather than live in exile.
Stefano Lo Verso, the former chauffeur for the notorious boss of bosses Bernardo Provenzano, has described himself as a “dead man walking” but insists he will continue cycling around his home town of Ficarazzi, near Palermo.
“Better to die a turncoat than a Mafioso,” he said. “I want the government to understand this: a collaborator who is able to return to his own territory can be a strong weapon against the Mafia.
“It’s the Mafiosi who should have to leave this town, not I who’ve renounced my past.”
After leaving prison in 2011 and entering a witness-protection programme he publicly apologised for his crimes and asked forgiveness from his victims. But tiring of a life in exile, Lo Verso returned to Sicily. He told La Repubblica that he had been concerned, too, for the safety of family members. He said would rather have the Mafia kill him than see his wife or daughter – who were not in the witness protection programme – harmed instead in a reprisal attack.
His lawyer, Monica Genovese, said a law change ensuring collaborators protection if they chose to remain in their homes was needed. “People who break links with the Mafia should not be obliged to leave their homes,” she said.
Corrado De Rosa, an author and expert witness in Mafia trials, said it made “moral and psychological sense” to ensure that collaborators were allowed to remain, protected in their own homes.
But Laura Garavini, an MP on the Parliamentary AntiMafia Committee, told The Independent she was sceptical about the practicality of extending witness protection in this way. “It is unrealistic to think about protecting a collaborator without resorting to security measures involving both the person’s transfer and change of identity,” she said.
Nonetheless, Lo Verso claimed that his defiance helped encourage the recent surge in resistance that resulted in 36 shopkeepers and businessmen denounce the Mafia and extortion rackets near the Sicilian capital. Their collaboration with the authorities has led to the arrest of 21 suspects, police announced last Monday.
Even Prime Minister Matteo Renzi hailed the apparent collapse of the Mafia code of silence in the town of Bagheria, where Bernardo Provenzano had spent many years in hiding before his capture in 2006. But the fight against Italy’s Mafia groups has a long way to go, experts say. And the price already paid by civilians was emphasised yesterday by new data from Libera, the anti-Mob campaign group, showing that 1,120 innocent people have been killed by Mafia groups in Italy’s 150-year history.