An Italian investigation into a mafia murder has revealed how some of the most stereotypical sides of Cosa Nostra and its archaic traditions live on today.
The probe, stemming from the execution killing of 29-year-old Salvatore Sciacchitano in October, exposed how Sicilian crime syndicates hold elections to appoint a new boss, who is then revered with a picturesque kissing ritual.
It also underscored the mafia's lighthearted approach to deadly violence, with a mobster taped giving a cheerful rendition of Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu, while waiting for updates on a murder.
On 11 December, Carabinieri Police held six people in an operation targeting the leadership of the Santa Maria di Gesù clan, which draws its name from a Palermo district. Among them was the gang boss, Giuseppe Greco. The 53-year-old had recently taken up the role following the murder of his predecessor Giuseppe Calasibetta.
Greco was appointed as leader in a democratic vote that was recorded by police. Hidden cameras filmed mafia top brasses arriving at a secret rendezvous at the back of a barber shop in Palermo's Guadagna district. During the meeting that was taped by police, mobsters discussed their preferences and then unanimously voted for Greco by raise of hands. They also recalled how in the 1970s elections were held every five years but legendary mafia boss Stefano Bontade was always the obvious winner.
Bontade was murdered in 1981 on the orders of Mafia overlord Totò Riina during a turf war. Godfather elections had never been documented before, and authorities knew about their existence only from witness testimonies of mafia supergrasses.
At the meeting gang members were also heard complaining about Cosa Nostra's shrinking ranks. "Back in the days we were 100, 120," one said. "Now if you put us all together we don't arrive at 20."
After the vote, Greco's new authority was acknowledged by gangsters also through symbolisms. Another clip released by Carabinieri police shows affiliates kissing Greco as a show of respect.
Greco was arrested along with Natale Giuseppe Gambino, 57, Gabriele Pedalino, 19, Domenico Ilardi, 19 and Lorenzo Scarantino, 21. The five are accused of being involved in the murder of Sciacchitano, who was gunned down in Palermo on 3 October in what detectives believe was a punitive hit.
Just hours before he was killed, Sciacchitano allegedly participated in another shooting targeting Santa Maria di Gesù affiliate Luigi Cona, who was injured.
"The execution served as a warning for those responsible of the first shooting as well as for anyone else planning to act independently from the family's leadership," police said in a statement.
Sciacchitano's murder was also caught on camera. In CCTV footage released by police, several men are seen chasing him and a friend, identified as Antonino Arizzi, down a street before opening fire. Sciacchitano was first shot at the legs and then executed, detectives said. Arizzi was wounded. Police believe two of the arrested, Pedalino and Ilardi, were the material executors of the murder. Scarantino allegedly provided them with logistical support.
Gambino is instead accused of planning and ordering the hit. A police spokesperson told IBTimes UK it was not immediately clear whether he is directly related to the renowned Gambino crime family in the US, as the surname is very common in Palermo.
He allegedly masterminded the hit along with another mobster, Salvatore Profeta, who was held in an earlier anti-mafia operation. In a chilling police wiretapping, Profeta can be heard singing Domenico Modugno's 1958 hit Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu, popularly known as Volare, as, upon learning of the successful shootings he waits in his car for confirmation that the hitmen have safely escaped.
As part of the operation, security forces also arrested Francesco Urso, 31, who investigators believe helped Sciacchitano carry out the shooting that cost him his life. He was traced down in northern Italy where he fled also fearing reprisal from the Santa Maria di Gesù clan.