Italians suspect Mafia link in detective's death FBI involved in investigation


PALERMO, Sicily -- A month after the killing of Italy's top Mafia-buster, investigators are trying to unravel many mysteries. Possibly the most worrisome is whether the assassination was linked to his inquiries into a new and largely unchronicled drive by the Sicilian Mafia and Colombian drug dealers to flood Europe with cocaine and thus expand beyond what narcotics agents call the saturated market of the United States.

Initially, the slaying of the Mafia investigator, Giovanni Falcone, on a highway outside Palermo was attributed to a vendetta against him for bringing over 300 Mafiosi to justice in the 1980s, and many still see this as the prime motive. Another goal was assumed to be preventing Mr. Falcone from taking a new job at the head of an anti-Mafia superagency this year.

Today, only a dust-crusted wreath at the roadside marks the place where a huge bomb tore through the blacktop as Mr. Falcone rode by, killing him, his wife and three bodyguards in a motorcade.

The scope of the investigation has broadened with the involvement of the United States' FBI, Mr. Falcone's close ally in previous trans-Atlantic Mafia investigations, which sent a team of six agents to Sicily immediately after the bombing.

"We are trying to understand if there are links in this murder between the Sicilian Mafia and Colombians or between the Sicilian Mafia and Cosa Nostra in the United States, and for this contribution, the FBI is essential," Justice Minister Claudio Martelli said.

"One of the last cases that Falcone supervised was the trafficking of 600 kilograms of cocaine for the first time directly from Colombia to Sicily," he said. "Another was the recruitment of Mafia soldiers in Sicily and their transfer to Cosa Nostra in Philadelphia."

The link between Sicilian Mafia clans and the Colombian drug cartel has been known to European and U.S. narcotics agents for at least a year, but it has only recently begun to raise alarms as the size of shipments has grown. The Mafia has paid for purchases with the proceeds of heroin trafficking in Europe.

"The curve of both shipments and seizures has just been going up all the time," said a Western narcotics official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Initially, narcotics agents seized small shipments of only a few pounds. But four months ago, the official said, a 600-pound cocaine shipment with a wholesale price of around $9 million and a far larger potential street value was seized in the port of Genoa, apparently destined for a new market.

"The Colombians don't have a distribution network in Europe, and the Mafia does," the official said. "The U.S. is saturated. This is the new market."

While Western Europe is heading toward open frontiers and a single market -- both advantageous to drug dealers -- Eastern Europe is also moving toward greater openness and free-market economies. "The Mafia and organized crime want to move in," the official said.

No one has been arrested for the bombing. Moreover, many remain convinced that the Mafia's traditional imposition of "omerta," the vow of silence, will protect Mr. Falcone's killers as it has protected other murderers of public figures.

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