Italian mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano, 83, dies in jail

Mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano with hooded police officers after his capture in Palermo, Sicily, southern Italy, 11 April 2006 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Provenzano was finally captured in 2006 after more than four decades on the run

Italian mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano has died in a prison hospital, aged 83.

Provenzano, dubbed "The Tractor" for his ruthless trait of mowing people down, was arrested and jailed in 2006 after spending 43 years on the run.

He took over command of the Sicilian Mafia in 1993 after the arrest of ex-boss Salvatore "Toto" Riina.

Provenzano was serving a life term for several murders, including the 1992 killings of top anti-Mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

He was suffering from bladder cancer and serious cognitive impairment and had spent the last two years in a prison hospital ward, Italian media report.

His illnesses had forced the suspension of ongoing negotiations with the state over unresolved crimes. However, even before his health declined, he had resisted any co-operation with the justice system.

Who was Bernardo Provenzano?

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The dairy farm where Provenzano's years on the run finally came to an end, and he was arrested in jeans and a pullover, an old man of 73

Bernardo Provenzano was born on 31 January 1933 in Corleone, a Sicilian town synonymous with Mafia activity which gave its name to the fictional family in the Godfather films.

He was said to have joined the mafia in his late teens, after World War Two.

He rose in the Mafia ranks and along with his friend, Toto Riina, worked for mafioso Luciano Liggio, who reportedly once said Provenzano had "the brains of a chicken but shoots like an angel".

When in 1974 Liggio was jailed, Riina was left in charge with Provenzano his right-hand man.

Once at the helm following Riina's capture, Provenzano reportedly tried to arbitrate between rival Mafia factions competing for business. He was said to have steered away from attacks on high-profile figures that had hardened public opinion against the Mafia and provoked police to respond.

In his later years, painstakingly cautious about revealing his whereabouts, Provenzano shunned the phone for hand-delivered "pizzini" notes and moved between farmhouses every two or three nights.

But in April 2006, he was arrested at a farmhouse near Corleone, his birthplace and where his wife and children lived.

'The Tractor' vs 'The Accountant'

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Image caption Provenzano combined bloodthirstiness with cunning to evade capture

Bernardo Provenzano earned the nickname The Tractor because, as an informant put it, "he mows people down".

He reportedly committed his first murder in 1958 aged 25, when Provenzano is alleged to have been one of the gunmen who helped rising mafioso Luciano Liggio murder Corleone clan head Michele Navarra, leaving Liggio as head of the family.

In 1963 Provenzano went on the run after an arrest warrant was issued against him for the murder of one of Navarra's men.

Gangland wars and murders of top judges became bloody hallmarks of Italian life in the 1980s, when Provenzano was second-in-command to "Toto" Riina.

However, Provenzano had another side to his character.

He was a careful operator, who took few overt risks, mastered the crime empire's finances, and under whose leadership the Mafia became a less bloodthirsty, more efficient machine, commentators say.

For these reasons, he was also dubbed The Accountant.

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