'It’s like com­ing back to life': Ital­ian MP re­veals her face to pub­lic for first time

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines / News -

Italy’s “ghost” politi­cian – who was forced to run for of­fice anony­mously due to threats from the mafia – has fi­nally re­vealed her face to the pub­lic af­ter win­ning her par­lia­men­tary seat.

“Af­ter all these years spent be­hind the scenes, to­day I can fi­nally look at the world in the face with­out fear of show­ing mine,” Piera Aiello, 51, told the Guardian, while pos­ing for pic­tures for the first time since 1993.

“It’s like com­ing back to life,” she said, smil­ing at the cam­era lens. “At this pre­cise mo­ment, I feel com­pletely free.”

Aiello’s life has been in dan­ger since she wit­nessed two mafia hit­men kill her hus­band in 1991, forc­ing her to en­ter wit­ness pro­tec­tion two years later.

In March, she stood as an an­ti­mafia can­di­date for the pop­ulist Five Star Move­ment (M5S) in Si­cily, and won her seat de­spite hav­ing to cam­paign anony­mously, and un­der se­cu­rity es­cort.

As an anti-mafia wit­ness, Aiello could not show her face in pub­lic, could not be pho­tographed, or freely hold cam­paign events in city squares. She of­ten wore a veil to cover her face, and be­came known as the “face­less can­di­date”.

Aiello was born in Par­tanna, in west­ern Si­cily. At the age of 14, she was forced to marry the son of Si­cil­ian mafia boss Vito Atria.

In 1991 a ri­val mafia clan de­cided to kill her hus­band. “We had a pizze­ria,” says Aiello. “One evening, two men en­tered the room. They looked at my hus­band and fired. He fell be­fore me, cov­ered in blood.”

Af­ter de­cid­ing to tes­tify against the as­sailants, she be­came a mafia in­for­mant, with her tes­ti­mony lead­ing to the ar­rest of sev­eral mob­sters.

But while other mafiosi re­mained free, she said she was forced to live like a prisoner while in wit­ness pro­tec­tion. She had to change her name and leave Si­cily.

Last year, she said she de­cided to take back con­trol of her life and run for of­fice in the elec­tion as a can­di­date for the anti-es­tab­lish­ment M5S.

“I had a goal: bring to the par­lia­ment the dra­matic con­di­tions in which those who de­cide to tes­tify against the mafia are forced to live,” she said.

De­spite suc­cess­ful cam­paigns to cur­tail the in­flu­ence of Cosa Nos­tra in Si­cily and the Camorra in Naples, or­gan­ised crime re­mains a se­ri­ous prob­lem in Italy and abroad. The Cal­abrian mafia, known as the ‘Ndrangheta, is be­lieved to be the lead­ing co­caine traf­ficker in Europe.

As a mem­ber of par­lia­ment, Aiello said it had be­come too com­pli­cated to avoid pho­tog­ra­phers and cam­eras in Rome, and she now felt ready to show her face in pub­lic.

But she will con­tinue to live un­der po­lice es­cort. She is still re­garded as a mafia tar­get, es­pe­cially since she be­came a prom­i­nent an­ti­mafia cam­paigner in par­lia­ment, en­cour­ag­ing wit­nesses to speak out.

On Wed­nes­day, Piera was back in Si­cily to meet other wit­nesses who re­belled against the mafia, who also live in fear.

One was Alessan­dro Mar­si­cano, 48, a pas­try chef from Palermo and vic­tim of mafia ex­tor­tion. Since be­com­ing an in­for­mant, his tes­ti­mony had led to ar­rests, but he said his life had be­come a night­mare.

“I had de­cided to leave Si­cily and move to Lon­don, where I opened a pas­try shop near Soho,” he says. “But the bosses reached me there too, and one evening they beat me up in the streets of Tot­ten­ham. Since I met Piera, I can see a brighter fu­ture for my fam­ily.”

Sev­eral state wit­nesses have cel­e­brated her vic­tory in par­lia­ment, and some have even called for her to be ap­pointed deputy min­is­ter of the in­te­rior in Italy’s new coali­tion govern­ment.

“I have de­cided to stand so those who rebel against mafia are not marginalised,” she said. “I de­cided to be­come a can­di­date be­cause I, Piera Aiello, wanted my face back. And I have got it.”

Pho­to­graph: Francesco Bel­lina/Cesura

Piera Aiello: ‘At this pre­cise mo­ment, I feel com­pletely free.’

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