The Malta Independent 26 June 2022, Sunday

Falcone’s legacy

Mary Muscat Sunday, 22 May 2022, 10:02 Last update: about 2 months ago

It’s the 30th anniversary tomorrow since the 500kg TNT and ammonium nitrate explosion that ripped apart the convoy escorting Judge Magistrate Giovanni Falcone, his wife and Appeals Judge Francesca Morvillo and three of their police bodyguards on the autostrada outside Capaci. Other civilians died too, innocently.

This wasn’t the first attempt on Falcone’s life: the first occurred three years before, in June 1989, when a bomb was found on the beach next to the summer villa he had rented.  

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I remember being glued to Italian news on television. It was 1992 and the internet still had another decade to develop a news platform. The bollettini straordinari kept popping in the middle of the scheduled programmes, serious or entertaining, on RAI and on the Mediaset stations. Not having the possibility of going over the news clips unless they were recorded on the home VCR, made one wait frantically trying to absorb all the details as they were aired. 

Having been used to the local police’s antics of the late 80s that culminated in a series of Human Rights breaches, this tragedy opened up a world of contrast on what justice and its system should look like.  The role of the prosecutor had been hitherto unknown to me and the Mafia’s carefully orchestrated massacre, which allegedly involved corrupt top government officials, made me aware of the weight that the role of the Magistrato Inquirente actually stood for. I had never heard of money-laundering till then and had to look it up in the dictionary, which did not really solve my dilemma. And what the telegiornale footage showed that evening was as much a crime scene as a war zone. I was 22 at the time and old enough for the exposure to mark the soul.

I remember being on a work-related trip exactly a year later in Palermo and sneaking out of the event’s activities to attend the commemoration in Via Notarbartolo. Visiting his tombstone in the San Domenico church was a no-no with massive queues thronging the area up to a few blocks down, but the atmosphere spoke for itself: the white sheets hanging from balconies and the Falcone tree replete with handwritten messages. You could hardly move and the public’s angry and grieving response to the Mafia was a sensorial memory that does not get erased easily.  Anything else felt so irrelevant in the face of the gravitas and auctoritas that Falcone stood for.

The legacy left behind is best articulated in the innovative concept of his kind of investigation, named the “Falcone method” and of the Maxi Processo. Falcone’s approach to money-laundering was threefold: looking at the whole structure from top to bottom, mapping the type and frequency of the trafficking activities between the Mafia entities and using intel obtained from pentiti. Thanks to this method, new strategic partnerships were formed between police agencies in Italy and outside.

Prosecuting the numerous Mafiosi and process all the evidence at once was no easy task. So the Maxi Processo was born, “maxi” in scale and extent, starting in February1986 and ending in January 1992. In the ensuing four months, while Falcone was drawing up a number of anti-Mafia rules and reforms aimed at further disabling the Piovra’s operations, the Mafia started its preparations for the Capaci assassination and constructed the 5m bomb on a skateboard that was eventually detonated at 17:56.

At the personal level, Falcone chose not to have children, to avoid leaving behind orphans: “non si fanno orfani”, he would say. His first marriage to Rita Bonnici, a primary school teacher, ended in divorce because of his career choice to focus on the anti-Mafia money-laundering cases in Palermo.

I still remember the Rai Sicilia journalist interviewing a group of young people protesting against the Mafia the day after. Some claimed to have changed their career plans to study law and continue Falcone’s fight. “But Falcone was only 53 years old and the guards were even younger. Aren’t you afraid to die young?” “I don’t want to die not trying or die being ashamed of my country,” answered one of them. Legacy with a capital “L”.

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