Salvatore Cancemi

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Salvatore Cancemi

Salvatore Cancemi (Palermo, March 19, 1942 – January 14, 2011) was a member of the Sicilian Mafia. He would be the first member of the Sicilian Mafia Commission that turned himself in voluntarily and became a pentito, a collaborator with the Italian judicial authorities. Cancemi made controversial allegations about the collusion of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his right-hand man Marcello Dell'Utri with the Mafia, which have not been corroborated.

Mafia career[edit]

Cancemi’s blood family had no tradition within the Mafia, his father had set up a thriving butcher shop. Cancemi was initiated into the Porta Nuova Mafia family in 1976 at the age of 34. His godfather was Vittorio Mangano. In 1985 he substituted Giuseppe Calò as the boss of the Porta Nuova family after Calò was arrested. He replaced Calò in the Cupola (the Sicilian Mafia Commission) as head of the mandamento of Porta Nuova that included the Mafia families of Palermo Centro and Borgo Vecchio as well.

In 1976 Cancemi was sent to jail for stealing a load of meat from a butcher who had refused to pay the pizzo – protection money. In prison Tommaso Buscetta took care of the freshly initiated Cancemi. Twenty years later, when Cancemi was reunited with Buscetta at one of the many trials in the 1990s, he confessed that he had personally participated in the strangling of two of Buscetta’s sons in 1982, on the order of Totò Riina. Buscetta embraced Cancemi and said: "You could not refuse the order. I forgive you because I know what it means to be in Cosa Nostra."[1]

Cancemi was involved in the preparations and executions of the murders on Antimafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992. He acted as a look-out for the team that placed and detonated the bomb at Capaci which killed Falcone, his wife and three men of his escort.[2] Cancemi initially denied to have participated in the murder on Borsellino, but had to admit his involvement when other pentiti confirmed his participation.

Cancemi described the victory celebration that followed the Capaci bombing. Totò Riina ordered French champagne and while the others toasted Cancemi and another future pentito, Santo Di Matteo looked at one another and exchanged a gloomy assessment of Riina and their future: "This cuckold will be the ruin of us all."[2]


On July 22, 1993, Cancemi walked into the Carabinieri station on Piazza Verdi in Palermo and turned himself in. Riina had been arrested on January 15 that year and his followers stepped up the terrorist strategy that had been started the year before with the killing of Falcone and Borsellino after the Maxi Trial sentence had been confirmed.[1][2] He also surrendered his fortune which was estimated to be worth GBP 33 million.[1]

On May 28, 1993, the Mafia detonated a bomb severely damaging the Uffizi Gallery in Florence starting a series of bomb attacks on places of cultural heritage. A few days after Cancemi’s surrender bombs detonated at the Villa Reale Museum and the Pavilion of Contemporary Art in Milan, on July 27 and the Church of San Giorgio and the Lateran Vicariate in Rome on July 28. In total the attacks left 10 people dead and 93 injured.

Cancemi opposed the violent terrorist strategy and feared for his life because he had said so. Riina’s brother in law Leoluca Bagarella also suspected that Cancemi had been behind the arrest of the Mafia boss.

Controversial declarations[edit]

Many of the allegations of Cancemi are controversial. Cancemi told prosecutors that the choice of the 1993 mainland bomb targets had been ‘suggested’ to Cosa Nostra since the organisation did not possess sufficient ‘refinement’ to select them autonomously. He said that Totò Riina and others had implied that they had support from individuals inside the State institutions. Riina and Provenzano told him that they had found ‘political contacts’ through which things would improve and legislation regarding the harsh article 41-bis prison regime would be changed.[3]

In 1996, Cancemi declared that Silvio Berlusconi and his right-hand man Marcello Dell'Utri were in direct contact with Riina who ordered the bombings which killed Antimafia magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. After a two-year investigation, magistrates closed the inquiry without charges in 2002.[4][5][6] They did not find evidence to corroborate Cancemi’s allegations.[7] Similarly, a two-year investigation, also launched on evidence from Cancemi, into Berlusconi’s alleged association with the Mafia was closed in 1996.[4][8]

Salvatore Cancemi disclosed that Fininvest, through Marcello Dell'Utri and mafioso Vittorio Mangano, had paid Cosa Nostra 200 million lire (100 000 euro) annually. The alleged contacts, according to Cancemi, were to lead to legislation favourable to Cosa Nostra, in particular the harsh 41-bis prison regime. The underlying premise was that Cosa Nostra would support Berlusconi's Forza Italia party in return for political favours.[9]

Despite convictions for participating in several murders, for instance the ones on Christian Democrat politician Salvatore Lima (DC - Democrazia Cristiana), the magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, and police officer Ninni Cassarà, Cancemi is not incarcerated. When asked about the current apparent 'pax mafiosa', Salvatore Cancemi said: "I find this silence more terrifying than the bombs."[10][11]


He died on January 14, 2011, of a stroke in the secret place where he had been staying as a government witness.[12]


  • (Italian) Riina mi fece i nomi di… Confessioni di un ex boss della Cupola (2002) Salvatore Cancemi and Giorgio Bongiovanni, Massari editore, ISBN 88-457-0178-6


  1. ^ a b c Dickie, Cosa Nostra, pp. 416-17
  2. ^ a b c Stille, Excellent Cadavers, p. 404-05
  3. ^ Jamieson, The Antimafia, p. 212
  4. ^ a b An Italian Story, The Economist, April 26, 2001
  5. ^ (Italian) Stragi mafiose: il gip archivia, La Repubblica, April 5, 2002
  6. ^ (Italian) Decreto di archiviazione
  7. ^ Murder case against Berlusconi dropped, The Guardian, May 6, 2002
  8. ^ (Italian) Accusa e difesa del senatore "M"; Una vicenda lunga dieci anni, La Repubblica, December 11, 2004
  9. ^ Berlusconi friend on trial for 'aiding Mafia', The Guardian, May 10, 2001
  10. ^ Dickie, Cosa Nostra, p. 442
  11. ^ Sins of the godfathers, The Observer, February 15, 2004
  12. ^ (Italian) Mafia, morto Salvatore Cancemi, La Repubblica, January 27, 2011

Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Berlusconi1" defined multiple times with different content

  • Dickie, John (2004). Cosa Nostra. A history of the Sicilian Mafia, London: Coronet, ISBN 0-340-82435-2 (Review in the Observer, February 15, 2004)
  • Jamieson, Alison (2000). The Antimafia: Italy’s fight against organized crime, London: Macmillan, ISBN 0-333-80158-X.
  • Stille, Alexander (1995). Excellent Cadavers. The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic, New York: Vintage ISBN 0-09-959491-9