Giovanni Falcone: The Life and Legacy of an Antimafia Judge and Hero

Giovanni Falcone was born in Palermo on the 18th May 1939 to Arturo Falcone and Luisa Bentivegna. He had two older sisters – Anna and Maria. He graduated with a law degree in 1961. Three years later he became a magistrate and joined the Prosecution Office in Trapani, where he worked for twelve years.

In 1978 he returned to Palermo, initially working in the bankruptcy court. Then in 1980 he moved to the investigative branch of the Prosecution Office, a few months after the Mafia assassinated its head, Judge Cesare Terranova. In 1981 Giovanni Falcone was appointed head of the investigative branch.

Giovanni Falcone: The Life and Legacy of an Antimafia Judge and Hero
Giovanni Falcone and his wife, Francesca Morvillo

Investigating the Mafia

The new head of the Prosecution Office, Judge Rocco Chinnici, assigned Falcone to investigate the heroin-trafficking network formed by the Inzerillos in Sicily and the Gambinos in New York. The investigation led to arrest warrants being issued for 55 mafiosi. These were signed by Judge Gaetano Costa, who was subsequently killed on the 6th August 1980.

From that day onwards Giovanni Falcone knew that he had a target on his back. However he continued in his mission to thwart the Mafia. He worked closely with other investigating magistrates such as Paolo Borsellino in what came to be known as the antimafia pool. The magistrates shared information between themselves and jointly signed indictments and arrest warrants. This was a precaution to avoid a repeat of what had happened to Gaetano Costa.

“My life is mapped out.

It is my destiny to take a bullet by the Mafia someday.

The only thing I don’t know is when…”

Giovanni Falcone

Targeting the Bosses

In December 1982 Falcone was assigned to lead the antimafia investigation into the murder of public prosecutor Piersanti Mattarella, brother of future President of Italy, Sergio Mattarella. The Mattarella investigation resulted in the indictment of nine people for the murder. These included Michele Greco and Salvatore Riina, the first Mafia bosses to be charged with murder in Sicily.

Falcone was a pioneer in the use of financial information during investigations. He manually collated reports on suspect financial transactions he identified from printouts he requisitioned from all the banks in Palermo. He also built a strong relationship and collaboration with investigators in other countries. This proved fundamental when it came to tracing the international reach of the Mafia.

The Buscetta Theorem and the Maxi Trial

“You might smile at it as if it was an archaic ceremony, or you might think of it as a real joke.

It is instead an extremely serious thing that affects him for the rest of his life.

Entering the mafia is like converting to a religion.

One never stops being a priest.

Nor a mafioso.”

Giovanni Falcone

The first high profile mafioso to defect and turn state’s witness was Tommaso Buscetta. Buscetta sat with Judge Giovanni Falcone for forty-five days, describing the inner workings of Cosa Nostra. The resulting Buscetta Theorem outlined the structure of Cosa Nostra. It became the key to Falcone’s prosecutorial strategy for the Maxi Trial.

Based on this information, and further testimony from the flood of pentiti that followed, a Maxi Trial commenced on the 10th February 1986. 475 mafiosi were indicted, of which 333 were found guilty and thrown into jail.

In March 1991 the new Minister of Justice Claudio Martelli appointed Giovanni Falcone to the post of Director-General of Criminal Affairs, so Falcone moved to Rome.

The Massacre of Capaci

Giovanni Brusca received orders from Totò Riina to assassinate Giovanni Falcone. Riina had decreed that he was to be assassinated in a spectacular fashion, in a clear demonstration of Cosa Nostra’s stranglehold on the island.

Cosa Nostra packed 400kg of TNT and plastic explosive taken from unexploded WWII bombs in 13 barrels. These were hidden in a drainage tunnel under Highway A29, close to the junction to Capaci. This was the route taken by Falcone as he drove from the airport to Palermo and back.

Every weekend Giovanni Falcone flew back to Sicily to spend the weekend in Palermo. On the 23rd May 1992, Brusca was waiting as Falcone and his security detail drove past Capaci. When he saw the entourage, he pushed the trigger. The explosion ripped up the highway, leaving a 15-metre crater. In total five people were killed. Giovanni Falcone, his wife Francesca Morvillo, and three police escort agents, Vito Schifani, Rocco Dicillo and Antonio Montinaro.

The lasting legacy of Giovanni Falcone

On the 25th May 1992 it was raining heavily. However, this did not stop thousands of Sicilians from braving the weather in order to honour Giovanni Falcone, his wife Francesca Morvillo, and the three police escort agents, Vito Schifani, Rocco Dicillo and Antonio Montinaro as they made their last journey in a funeral cortege from the courthouse to the Basilica of San Domenico.

A crowd formed outside the church while the funeral mass was being held. The people stood silently, breaking into loud applause when the five coffins were carried out after the ceremony.

However, it was not only despair that these people were feeling. They were also angry and determined to make their voices heard. As ministers and other government officials left the Basilica the crowd howled “Assassins!” and “Justice!”

Grassroots initiatives started to take shape. The ficus tree outside Falcone’s apartment block in via Notarbartolo became a shrine. It is commonly known as “the Falcone tree” and for weeks there was a steady stream of visitors leaving messages and flowers.

The assassination of Falcone had finally galvanized the State, the Church, the media and civil society to work together for real change in Sicily. This set the scene for the “cultural revolution” of the Palermo Renaissance that emerged from the ashes of the massacre in Capaci.

Giovanni Falcone – a hero of the antimafia

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Giovanni Falcone’s death. He is widely viewed as a hero not only in his home country of Italy, but all over the world. In Sicily, he is known as the “father of antimafia”. His work in fighting the Sicilian Mafia and helping to bring many of its members to justice has earned him respect and admiration from many people, both in Italy and abroad.

Despite the risks involved, Falcone never backed down from his fight against the Mafia. He was a passionate and determined prosecutor who was committed to finding and bringing to justice those responsible for organised crime. He will always be remembered as a brave and courageous man who sacrificed his own life in order to make Sicily a safer place for all.

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