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January 22, 2023

Sunday, January 22, 2023 - No comments

"Con il traffico di opere d'arte ci manteniamo la famiglia." Words from Cosa Nostra Boss Matteo Messina Denaro?

«Con il traffico di opere d'arte ci manteniamo la famiglia

"With the trafficking of works of art we support our family."  So read a purported intercepted pizzini, stated to have been written by Cosa Nostra boss Matteo Messina Denaro to one of his men.

Pizzini, literally little messages, are generally codified messages which represent the orders, thoughts and concerns of the mafia's men in power. Provenzano for instance, was known to write his on a small typewriter, folding and taping them into tiny squares, so that he could communicate his orders among the uomini d'onore through these tiny secret messages while on the run as a mafia fugitive.

When captured and deciphered by law enforcement, pizzini like these can serve as evidence, paper accomplices, which like informants, give concretised clues on mafia operations and in some cases, outlining specific orders given in the commission of crimes by clan bosses. 

News of this leaked message was first published in a 2021, in a Huffington post article by Vincenzo Musacchio, a Jurist and Professor of Criminal Law.  It is now making the airwaves again, following Messina Denaro's arrest.

But even if this pizzini turns out to be real evidence, proven to have been written by Messina Denaro, it merely confirms what we already know.  

The trafficking of art as a form of "currency" has already been concretised through other well known organised crime cases in Italy.  One of the more dramatic examples, a few years back, is that of Camorra clan boss, Raffaele Imperiale, who held on to two Van Gogh paintings, first stolen in Amsterdam and later recovered at a property connected to him in the Bay of Naples.

While both were potent actors in Italy's organised crime syndicates, Imperiale and Messina Denaro are not the only mobsters who have used art for illegal means. The art market is a global one, allowing for easy movement of assets across borders. 

Art and antiquities are attractive financial instrument, especially for the underworld, as it can be used by criminals as a means of concealing the proceeds derived from illicit activities.  This can also include purchasing legitimate works of art with dirty money, selling it at a later date for a profit and thereby "washing" the money so that it appears that the funds come from a legitimate, and now more traceable, source. 

Criminals may also use art and antiquities as a means of transferring large sums of money across international borders, as art is not subject to the same regulations and scrutiny as financial banking transactions. 

Art and antiquities can also been used as collateral for underworld loans, or when the location of stolen material is disclosed during plea deals, may sadly serve as a bargaining chip used by charged offenders as a means of negotiating lower prison sentences, as we have just seen in Germany this week.

What comes out publicly in the Messina Denero investigation, related to art and antiquities crime, which might back up this slip of paper should be interesting. 

For now, we will have to settle with seeing the back side of the Sicilian crime boss' wardrobe, in one of his hideouts.  A space where Messina Denero could access - via a sliding wooden wall - an armoured room, complete with boxes of jewels, precious stones, and it seems, paintings...but also empty boxes.