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Discarded silk socks help police sniff out Mafia leader

Languishing in a top-security Italian prison this weekend after 16 years on the run, mob supremo Michele Zagaria has no shortage of time to ponder the reasons for his downfall.

Already convicted in absentia of murder and extortion, the head of the feared Camorra mafia was arrested last week in his secret underground compound, and now has the rest of his life in prison to work out what led to his capture. Was it a rare informant on his home turf of Casapesenna, just outside Naples, where many townsfolk regard him as a "saint"?

Surely not. Might Vincenzo Inquieto, the scruffy associate whose house he lived beneath, have betrayed him? Unlikely. Or could it even be due to the recent downfall of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, in whose government he allegedly had "protectors"?

None of the above, smiles Pietro Morelli, the dapper deputy chief of the Naples Police Homicide Squad that nailed him last Wednesday. Instead, his explanation is one that may lead to a bizarre amendment to mob codes of conduct: if you want to stay one step of ahead of the law, it seems, do not do so wearing expensive Italian socks.

"It was a hard manhunt because we had no idea what his voice was like, as he never communicated by phone, or really what he looked like any more," said Mr Morelli, who has combed the length of Italy looking for Zagaria, 53, helped only by an ageing mugshot in his wallet.

"But when we finally did surveillance on the house where we thought he was, we checked the rubbish bins and found a very expensive pair of Gallo socks that had been thrown out. I wear Gallo socks myself, but we knew the owner of the house didn't dress that smartly, so there had to be someone else living there. Someone with plenty of money."

Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellier hailed it as a "huge success for the state", while Mario Monti, the newly installed "technocrat" prime minister, described it as a "beautiful day for all honest people".

But last week, Zagaria's arrest was treated like a bereavement. "Michele was a galantuomo (a man of honour)," said one man. "He moved the economy and provided work."

That Zagaria certainly did, and despite the Camorra's reputation for extraordinary ruthlessness -- it has been linked to more than 3,000 murders in the past three decades -- career options in his service included producing mozzarella cheese and sugar sachets for espressos, to the construction business, in which he was known as "the king of tendering".

Firms linked to the Casalesi clan, it is said, built half the shopping malls in the Naples region, as well as the high-speed train link from Rome to southern Italy, and even a prison and Nato radar base.

And while there was sharp practice to the tendering process -- rivals would often find their projects burned down -- it is claimed much of the building work was as efficient as any in Italy, certainly within the public sector.

© Telegraph

Sunday Independent