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Mafia's "boss of bosses" on trial for murder

Written by: Staff

PALERMO, Sicily, May 3 (Reuters) The Mafia's ''boss of bosses'' went on trial yesterday via a video-link from a high-security prison three weeks after his arrest ended 43 years as a fugitive.

Bernardo Provenzano, on trial along with other mobsters for dozens of murders, was shown on a court television sitting calmly at a prison in central Italy with court documents on a table in front of him.

He communicated by telephone with his lawyer at the Palermo courthouse. It is common practice in Italy that high-profile mobsters be kept in jail rather than organising a high-security transfer to court.

The 73-year-old appeared on the same split television screen as his predecessor, Toto ''the Beast'' Riina, who ruled the Mafia until his arrest in 1993.

Provenzano replaced Riina and authorities fear a possible battle of succession in the months to come for whoever takes over from him.

The case against Provenzano, Riina and dozens of other mobsters deals with more than a decade of Mafia crimes including the 1991 murder of Libero Grassi, the owner of a thriving textile company outside Palermo.

He was killed in 1991 after he refused to pay a large monthly ''pizzo'', the Sicilian word for an extortion payment.

Provenzano, in his early days, was known as ''Binnu the tractor'' because of the way he mowed down enemies when a rising hitman of the Corleone clan.

Grassi's widow and two children quietly watched Provenzano, wearing blue jeans, at the courtroom on Tuesday during the proceedings.

''It's a great day for justice,'' his widow, Pina Maisano, told reporters.

Provenzano and Riina asked the Palermo judge to instruct television reporters and photographers not to retransmit images of him shown during the court hearing. The judge agreed.

His lawyer also passed on a message for the media, saying Provenzano -- who had a prostate tumour removed during his days as a fugitive -- was receiving proper care in prison.

Provenzano was arrested at a farmhouse outside his hometown of Corleone, the hilltown made famous by the Godfather films, after police tracked a package sent by his wife. He had been wanted since 1963.

He had already been sentenced in absentia to life in jail in connection with the crime group's most notorious crimes of recent decades, including the killings in 1992 of top anti-Mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

Reuters CH DB1000

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