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Tuesday, 4 April, 2000, 20:28 GMT 21:28 UK
Sicilian Mafia supergrass dies
Tommaso Buscetta
Tommaso Buscetta died aged 71 of cancer
By David Willey in Rome

Tommaso Buscetta, the former Sicilian Mafia boss who first broke the traditional Mafia code of silence to turn state evidence, has died in the United States after a long illness.

He died on Sunday, but the news was only released by his lawyers on Tuesday.

Mr Buscetta was the supergrass who finally revealed to Italian police the top organisation of the Mafia in Sicily.

He became the most significant Mafia turncoat in Italian criminal history after being extradited from Brazil in 1984, and agreeing to tell Judge Giovanni Falcone the names and details of the members of the Cupola - the secret Mafia executive in charge of running the international drug trade at that time.

Judge Falcone and his wife were later murdered by the Mafia in a bomb explosion.

Family feuds

More than a dozen members of Mr Buscetta's own family had been wiped out in one of the most vicious vendettas in the history of organised crime.

He decided he had nothing further to lose by telling police on both sides of the Atlantic everything he knew.

The funeral of Judge Falcone in 1992
The funeral of Judge Falcone in 1992
He was rewarded by being given special police protection, a generous income and a new identity.

Mr Buscetta chose to live in the US rather than in Italy, where he feared he might be betrayed and killed.

There are now several hundred Mafia turncoats helping Italian justice to fight organised crime.

Italy's witness-protection programme is under revision, however, after allegations that it has become too easy to turn state evidence in return for leniency from justice authorities.

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