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Wed 12 August 2020
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Chris Sullivan reviews The Traitor, a brutal Italian story of crime and corruption, and finds parallels with the UK

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 The Traitor is a movie that sweats with authenticity. Directed by Marco Bellocchio of Good Morning, Night, it tells the story of Italy’s most notorious 1980s Mafia informer, Tommaso Buscetta. Even though this is a brutal true-life crime story, it’s not just another gangland film.

Buscetta, exquisitely acted by Pierfrancesco Favino, is by his own admission “a man of honour” yet is caught in a world where the killing of women and children is the norm. The maxim “kill the man and his every relative and friend” is relentlessly observed as he gets caught in the heroin wars that left the streets of Palermo running with blood in the 1980s.

Buscetta – also known as the “boss of two worlds” – had one foot in Sicily and the other in Brazil, where he went to escape from the Italian police. His exile ended when his eldest sons were executed by the Corleonesi Mafia clan.

After the murders of his sons, the clan killed Buscetta’s brother Vincenzo, son-in-law Giuseppe Genova, brother-in-law Pietro and four of his nephews. They were issuing a bloody challenge for him to return to Sicily.


WHISTLEBLOWING ON THE MAFIA

Determined to hit back at the Mafia, Buscetta returned to Italy and for 45 days confessed everything he knew to Judge Giovanni Falcone – outlining the Cosa Nostra’s (the Sicilian Mafia’s) secret command structure and denouncing his former confederates.

He revealed details about more than a thousand killings during the mid-1980s when Riina and the Corleonesi, together with their allies, wiped out their rivals.

Whilst not nearly so bloody, the danger to democracy in the UK is still very real.

The subsequent trial, known as the ‘Maxi Trial’ (Maxiprocesso), lasted for six years. Sicilian prosecutors impeached 475 mobsters for offences including multiple murders, protection rackets, drug running, blackmail, coercion, bribery and bombing – based primarily on testimonies from Buscetta.

It resulted in 338 people being sentenced to a total of 2,665 years, not including the life sentences handed to the bosses themselves, including Riina who, captured in 1993, was given 26 life sentences and served his time in solitary confinement.


GREED & CORRUPTION

Unquestionably, part of the trial’s controversy was that it not only exposed the inner workings of the Cosa Nostra but also its influence on and its association with the Italian Government.

The Mafia had rigged the local political system for years through mutually beneficial relationships with political figures, including one of the mayors of Palermo, Vito Alfio Ciancimino, who was sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment for his Mafia associations in 1992.

Ciancimino had granted planning permissions to Mafia contractors in a construction boom known as the ‘Sack of Palermo’ that, in the space of five years, granted more than 2,500 building licenses to three pensioners who had no connection with the construction industry. This corruption paved the way for the obliteration of the city’s graceful antique villas and its handsome greenbelt, to be replaced by soul-less, shabby properties, ruining the city.

This corruption may well sound all too familiar to UK citizens.

Boris Johnson, during his tenure as Mayor of London, ostensibly opened the doors to Russian oligarchs and those enriched by corruption. Since then, he and the Conservative Party have taken thousands of pounds from Russian donors. So much dirty Russian money has come into London that the city was labelled “Londongrad” in Parliament’s Russia Report.

Another Palermo mayor, Corleone-born Salvatore Lima, was also hand-in-glove with the Cosa Nostra. It was he who gave the lucrative right to tax collection, contracted out by the Government in Sicily to cousins Ignazio and Nino Salvo – both of whom were convicted in the Maxi Trial.

The Salvo cousins received a commission three times above the market value, which they allegedly used to bankroll disgraced Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti’s political campaigns. The politician, who served three terms as Prime Minister, was put on trial in Palermo for “[making] available to the Mafia association named Cosa Nostra for the defence of its interests and attainment of its criminal goals, the influence and power coming from his position as the leader of a political faction”.

During the trial one informer testified that Riina and Andreotti had met and exchanged a “kiss of honour”.

Andreotti was eventually acquitted on 23 October 1999 but – based on the testimony of Buscetta – was simultaneously charged with complicity in the murder of journalist Carmine Pecorelli. After first being acquitted, the Prime Minster was then sentenced to 24 years in a 2002 retrial, only for that verdict to be overturned a year later.


MORAL HIGH GROUND?

 There was a time when the UK poured scorn on the likes of Sicily and the region’s hideous corruption, but the way our Government has given favours to friends, encouraged money laundering, taken money from billionaires and lied at every turn, doesn’t give us the moral high ground to be so dismissive. Whilst not nearly so bloody, the danger to democracy in the UK is still very real.

Part courtroom drama, part biopic, The Traitor is a Cosa Nostra motion picture epic that, spread over 30 years and running to over two-and-a-half hours, will make you ponder our political reality.

‘The Traitor’ is in cinemas now


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