Libero Grassi, the businessman who dared to challenge the fearsome Cosa Nostra alone

This is the story of a businessman who paid the highest price to take on the Italian mafia in his traditional stronghold of Sicily.Libero Grassi inspired a campaign against organized crime on the island.

In August 1991, one of the most powerful criminal families in Sicily, the Madonia clan, sent a driver to follow Grassi.

“I followed him to see if he was going alone or if he had protection. When we were sure that He always left his house alone, (Salvatore) “Salvino” Madonia decided to kill him“, Said the driver, Marco Favaloro, who later became an informant.

This is the evidence he gave against Salvino Madonia:

“Madonia asked me to meet him near a newspaper booth in the city center. Then he told me to drive his car and we pulled up next to Grassi’s vehicle.

“He told me to keep the engine running and the right door open.

“When the target exited the building, Madonia got out of the car with a gun hidden in the newspaper, approached him and fired every round. Then he got back in the car and we fled the scene. “

The ‘pizzo’

The murder of Libero Grassi made front page news in Italy and around the world.

The body of Italian businessman Libero Grassi.  Palermo, August 29, 1991.

Getty Images
The body of Italian businessman Libero Grassi. Palermo, August 29, 1991.

He had been murdered for breaking the code of silence surrounding the mafia by publicly refusing to pay what Italians called the pizzo or protection money.

“My father he was a man of few words, but he didn’t need many to say what he thought“, told BBC Witness History Grassi’s daughter Alice.

“I had a clothing manufacturing business with 100 employees and they made men’s pajamas and robes.

“When the factory moved to the Madonia-controlled part of Palermo in the 1980s, that’s when they started extorting money from it.”

They started in typical mob style, with an elusive man known as the “Anzalone surveyor” politely asking for a monthly contribution for security or “to help some friends who were going through difficult times.”

When Grassi refused, the bullying began.

Dear extortioner

“They raided the factory, stole the salary of the staff and kidnapped the guard dog. We received threatening phone calls. Even my mother, who worked in another company, received them. They had made an effort to locate her to pressure her ”.

After years of harassment, which also included a failed attempt to bomb the factory, Grassi decided it was enough.

And he wrote this open letter to one of the major local newspapers in January 1991:

Dear extortioner,

I would like to ask our unknown extortionist to renounce the threatening phone calls and the expense of acquiring fuzes, bombs and projectiles, because we are not prepared to make contributions.

I built this factory with my own hands. It’s my life’s work and I have no intention of closingthe.

If we pay the 50 million, then they will return to the office asking us for more money, a monthly fee, and we will be destined to close in no time. That is why we said no to “Anzalone Surveyor” and we will say no to all those like him.“.

Nobody else

When the letter appeared on the front page, her daughter recalls, “Obviously, the whole family was concerned, but we agreed with her decision. We thought going public would actually protect it. “

Square in Palermo

Getty Images
It was estimated that more than half of the entrepreneurs in Palermo paid pizzo.

That, perhaps naively, was Libero Grassi’s plan. I wanted to start a movement in Palermo against him pizzo, that more than 50% of companies were thought to be paying.

“I was hoping that other entrepreneurs would support it, but unfortunately none of them did. The head of the Palermo Entrepreneurs Association said that he was not aware of any problems … and he himself was paying! pizzo! ”.

Although did not receive any endorsement from colleagues, Libero Grassi attracted the attention of the Italian press. He was even invited to appear on national television.

“If I give in, I would be giving up my dignity as an independent company and making my decisions with the mob. If everyone followed my example, the extortionist would be destroyed ”, he declared on that occasion.


In August 1991, when the Madonia family’s driver began tracking Grassi, he noticed that the modest 67-year-old man often wore sandals as if he were a Franciscan monk.

And he was without personal protection. “It only asked for protection for the factory and the employees, so a police car used to patrol it.”

Did he see himself as a hero?

“Absolutely not. He considered himself a normal person. I thought it was really normal to run a business without mob intimidation. In most countries that would be normal behavior ”.

The Madonia clan was led by Francesco Madonia; his son Salvino personally commissioned the execution, a sign of his importance.

“I was in Barcelona with my husband and I called home at night. My brother told me that there had been an attack… and that he was dead ”.

It was a complete surprise.

“The mafia did not use to kill this way. We expected an attack on our business, not on my father personally. But judicial evidence shows that he was actually killed by Madonia’s own son to serve as an example.

“My father had the ‘honor’ that Salvino Madonia himself pulled the trigger.”


In 2006, Madonie’s father and son were imprisoned for the murder of Libero Grassi.

“We found out later from the tests that the other mafia families disagreed because they thought it would be counterproductive and that other businessmen would refuse to pay and that’s what happened: after my father was killed, people had to decide which side they were on ”.

Little by little, more and more companies in Sicily have followed Libero Grassi’s example and refused to pay the mafia.

And the movement called Addiopizzo (goodbye to pizza) It was started by a younger generation of Sicilians in 2004.

Seal that guarantees that the store does not pay pizzo.

Seal that guarantees that the store does not pay pizzo.

“We call them the Addiopizzo boys because at that time they were some boys fresh out of college who wanted to open a bar. When they were threatened, they had no way to pay. So that night they came up with the slogan that said ‘a town that pays the pizza is a town without dignity‘.

“They put the slogan on those cards that are used for funeral announcements – white with black edges – and they distributed the cards all over the city. So one morning Palermo woke up to this anonymous protest. A few days later, we found out that it was these guys and later they formed the Addiopizzo movement ”.

The movement now gives advice to companies that want to report the mob, as well as provides consumers with a list of companies that are mob-free.

My father is recognized as the forerunner of the anti-mafia movement in Palermo ”.

“Now there are 1,000 companies registered. That is not much for a city like Palermo, but compared to 0 in 1991, it is a good result ”.

Remember that you can receive notifications from BBC Mundo. Download the new version of our app and activate them so you don’t miss out on our best content.


Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Back to top button

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker