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Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano reported that several of the bosses were released from prison due to their ages. The pandemic has hit Italy particularly hard, and in addition, United Nations figures in 2017 found that 29.4 percent of the population was over 60 years old.
Pasquale Zagaria, the 60-year old brother of Don Michele of the Casalesi clan in Camorra, was allowed to return from Sardinia to the mainland on Saturday. Zagaria similarly suffered from cancer, which doctors said they could not treat properly while he remained in prison.
The judge specifically cited the pandemic and Zagaria’s health as the reason to release him.
“He risks contagion,” the judge said. He noted that the nearest hospital, in Sassari, was transformed into a COVID-19 treatment center and could not supply the treatments that Zagaria required. Additionally, Zagaria’s cancer put him at greater risk of infection.
Italy’s prisons have been notoriously overcrowded, which has led the coronavirus pandemic to be especially lethal in such areas, triggering intense protests across the region this past March.
The judge reportedly asked for advice from the Prison Administration Department, but received no reply.
Courts previously granted house arrest to other mafia-related figures, such as Francesco Bonura, a leading member of the Cosa Nostra in Sicily. Bonura was allowed to leave the house but only for health-related reasons.
According to Italian Insider, a Milan judge explained in a three-page long decision that Bonura would spend the house arrest in Palermo at his wife’s home.
“In view of the subject’s advanced age and the presence of important health problems, with particular regard to oncological and cardiac pathologies, there are currently the prerequisites for the optional deferment of the execution of the sentence,” the magistrate wrote.
“Also taking into account the current health emergency and the related risk of contagion, undoubtedly higher in an environment with a high population density such as prison, which exposes elderly people with serious previous diseases to particularly serious consequences.”
Raffaele Cutolo, leader of the Nuova Camorra Organizzata, has pleaded for house arrest on similar conditions of age and health, and La Repubblica reported that 70-year old boss Rocco Filippone had been moved to house arrest — without an ankle bracelet — on April 11.
The rulings outraged many senators, who have now invoked the country’s Anti-Mafia Commission to verify the judgment. Minister of Justice Alfonso Bonafede announced he was ready to “intervene,” most likely to require the commission to consent to any decision to move a mafia-related prisoner – even in the case of health-related reasons.
“The fight against the mafias is a serious matter,” Bonafede said in a statement. “Talking about it superficially, throwing such an important theme into the daily life, lying to the citizens saying that there is a law (or even a circular) of this government that requires the judges to release the mafia, it is very serious.”
He continued, “Decisions on release for health reasons are taken in full autonomy and independence from the judiciary. Everyone knows… or maybe not, judging from some videos on the net. In any case, I initiated all internal and external investigations, also at the inspectorate, on the various releases. But, this is not enough.”
President of the Anti-Mafia Commission Nicola Morra agreed that he was “ready to intervene at a regulatory level.” He noted that some of the proposals to increase the commission’s involvement in any future releases were promising.
Italy had been the most-infected country in Europe, but recently has managed to reduce daily new cases as well as daily deaths.
Italy has seen over 197,000 total cases with over 26,000 deaths, according to the latest figures.