Tesla investor calls for $15 billion stock buyback after share price falls

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is trying to buy Twitter and manage multiple companies at the same time.

James Glover II | Reuters

Billionaire Leo Koguan, who claims to be the third largest individual shareholder of Tesla stock, is calling on the carmaker to announce a $15 billion stock buyback as the company’s share price continues to fall.

In a tweet to Martin Viecha, Tesla’s senior director of investor relations, Koguan said the company should immediately announce that it plans to buy back $5 billion of Tesla shares this year and $10 billion next year. He added that Tesla should use its free cashflow to fund the buyback and that it shouldn’t effect its existing $18 billion cash reserves.

In a follow up tweet, Koguan said Tesla’s free cash flow amounted to $2.2 billion in the first quarter of the year. He added that he expects it to climb to $8 billion this year and $17 billion next year, after capital expenditure has been factored in.

In another tweet, he said Tesla can invest in full self-driving, its Optimus bot and new factories while also buying back its “undervalued stocks.”

Tesla did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

Tesla shares closed down more than 6% Wednesday amid a broad market sell-off. The company’s stock is down more than 30% this year.

A stock buyback — when a public company uses cash to buy shares of its own on the open market — is a method that firms use to try to return capital to shareholders.

Musk, the world’s richest person on paper, said Tuesday that he’s put the Twitter deal “on hold” until he gets more information on how many fake or spam accounts there are on the social media network.

Analysts at Jefferies said Tuesday that Musk looks to be trying to drive down the price due to the recent market sell-off.

“Elon Musk’s recent comments suggest he is trying to negotiate a lower offer price,” equity analyst Brent Thill and equity associate James Heaney said in a research note.

“We believe that Musk is using his investigation into the % of fake TWTR accounts as an excuse to pay below $54.20/share. In reality, the NASDAQ COMP is down 25% YTD [year-to-date] and Elon Musk realizes that he may be overpaying for the asset.” CNBC contacted Tesla to respond to the comments but did not receive a reply.

Wedbush analyst and Tesla bull Dan Ives told CNBC Wednesday that Musk’s plan to buy Twitter has been a “massive overhang” on Tesla’s stock.

Ives, who says he has followed Musk for decades, said Musk has incurred a “black eye” in the last few weeks.

“The way he’s handled this, I believe has been unconscionable,” Ives said, adding that it’s “left a bit of a stain” on Tesla’s stock.


Easter eggs linked to hundreds of salmonella cases in U.S and 15 other countries, EU says

European health officials say that 266 confirmed cases and 58 suspected cases of an outbreak of salmonella infection linked to chocolate Easter eggs have now been reported throughout Europe and in North America, the vast majority in children.

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said that 86.3% of the cases were among children aged 10 or younger, and for all cases in Europe with information available, 41.3% of them were hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

Cases have been reported in 14 European countries, Canada and the United States.

The European Union agency still suspects a Belgian factory. Its closure in April, the global recall and withdrawal of their products from the shelves “have reduced the risk of exposure, but new cases may occur due to the long shelf life and possible storage of products at home,” the agency said.

In early April, food authorities in several European countries said that Italian company Ferrero has recalled specific batches of Kinder chocolate products due to suspicions of a connection between the products and an outbreak of salmonella.

The two outbreak strains, which both are multidrug-resistant, were identified in 10 of the 81 salmonella-positive samples taken in the Belgian plant in December and January, including in buttermilk, semi-finished and finished products. The buttermilk was provided by an Italian supplier where salmonella was not detected.

“Based on the available evidence, salmonella has not been detected in other plants,” the agency said Wednesday.

The Stockholm-based agency said it continues to monitor the situation, and encouraged close cooperation with food safety authorities in the countries affected.

The CDC estimates salmonella causes about 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths in the U.S. every year.

The bacteria that causes the illness, salmonellosis, can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. Illness typically lasts four to seven days and most people will recover without treatment, however some may need to be hospitalized for severe diarrhea. The elderly, infants, and those with weakened immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.


Flood-ravaged Australians feel forgotten as election looms

LISMORE, Australia: For Karey Patterson, the lingering memory of the February floods that devastated Australia’s east coast was wondering how long he could hold his daughter’s head above water as the torrent consumed their home.

“It was like a disaster movie, but I was in it,” he told AFP, standing in the still-gutted shell of his house in the town of Lismore.

In the aftermath of the floods, the worst the city had ever seen, there was a flurry of news coverage, visits from the prime minister and opposition leader, and promises of help.

Three months on, the floodwater has mostly receded and with it public attention.

On the eve of Saturday’s (May 21) election, the fact that more than 1,500 citizens in one of the world’s richest nations are still in emergency accommodation barely gets a mention in the campaign.

Many others have slipped through the statistics, sleeping on friends’ couches, staying in caravans, or camping in their flood-wrecked homes.

“I think we have been forgotten,” said Bec Barker, who has been living with her husband in a small caravan in the backyard of the home they spent more than a decade renovating.

“I don’t think people realise that we don’t have houses to come back to, we don’t have furniture, we don’t have anything.”

Battling her insurer and ineligible for grants, Barker cannot picture herself living again in the home she thought she would grow old in.

While many flood victims feel forgotten, some also worry climate change’s low billing on the campaign trail will guarantee more Australians are hit by increasingly extreme droughts, fires and floods.

Barker wants to see better government preparedness before new disasters strike – so neighbours are not left to rescue one another in the dead of night.

“This can happen to anyone, really. I don’t live in a high flood zone area,” she said.

“It happened to us.”


US warns abortion ruling could increase extremist violence

Thu, 2022-05-19 02:14

WASHINGTON: The leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion striking down the constitutional right to abortion has unleashed a wave of threats against officials and others and increased the likelihood of extremist violence, an internal government report says.
Violence could come from either side of the abortion issue or from other types of extremists seeking to exploit tensions, according to a memo directed to local government agencies from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis.
It’s an added element to what is already a volatile environment in the US, where authorities have warned repeatedly over the past two years that the threat posed by domestic extremists, such as the gunman who committed the racist attack over the weekend in Buffalo, has surpassed the danger from abroad.
The memo, dated May 13 and obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, seeks to differentiate between illegal activity and the intense but legal outpouring of protests that are all but guaranteed when the Supreme Court issues its ruling at the end of its term this summer, regardless of the outcome.
“DHS is committed to protecting Americans’ freedom of speech and other civil rights and civil liberties, including the right to peacefully protest,” the agency said in a written response to questions about the memo.
Those protests could turn violent. The memo warns that people “across a broad range of various … ideologies are attempting to justify and inspire attacks against abortion-related targets and ideological opponents at lawful protests.”
Violence associated with the abortion debate would not be unprecedented nor would it necessarily be confined to one side or the other, the memo says.
Opponents of abortion have carried out at least 10 killings as well as dozens of arson and bomb attacks against medical facilities in their long campaign to overturn Roe v. Wade.
DHS said there is also a potential for violence from the other side, citing recent damage to buildings used by abortion opponents in Wisconsin and Oregon.
“Historically, violent acts related to this issue were primarily committed by abortion-related violent extremists that opposed abortion rights,” it said. “Going forward, grievances related to restricting abortion access could fuel violence by pro-choice abortion-related violent extremists and other” (domestic violent extremists).
In the Wisconsin incident, it noted, the building was set on fire and the perpetrators left graffiti that said “If abortions aren’t safe (then) you aren’t either.”
The leak of the opinion this month, authorities prompted a “significant increase” in threats through social media of Supreme Court justices, members of Congress and other public officials as well as clergy and health care providers, the memo said.
At least 25 of those threats were forwarded to law enforcement agencies for further investigation.

Main category: 

Leaked draft shows US court set to strike down abortion rights: PoliticoUS Justice Department sues Texas over restrictive abortion law

North Korea’s Suspected COVID-19 Outbreak Nears 2 Million

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Thursday reported 262,270 more suspected COVID-19 cases as its pandemic caseload neared 2 million — a week after the country acknowledged the outbreak and scrambled to slow infections in its unvaccinated population.

The country is also trying to prevent its fragile economy from deteriorating further, but the outbreak could be worse than officially reported since the country lacks virus tests and other health care resources and may be underreporting deaths to soften the political impact on authoritarian leader Kim Jong Un.

North Korea’s anti-virus headquarters reported a single additional death, raising its toll to 63, which experts have said is abnormally small compared to the suspected number of coronavirus infections.

The official Korean Central News Agency said more than 1.98 million people have become sick with fever since late April. Most are believed to have COVID-19, though only a few omicron variant infections have been confirmed. At least 740,160 people are in quarantine, the news agency reported.

North Korea’s outbreak comes amid a provocative streak of weapons demonstrations, including its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile in nearly five years in March. Experts don’t believe the COVID-19 outbreak will slow Kim’s brinkmanship aimed at pressuring the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power and negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength.

After maintaining a dubious claim that it had kept the virus out of the country for two and a half years, North Korea acknowledged its first COVID-19 infections May 12.
After maintaining a dubious claim that it had kept the virus out of the country for two and a half years, North Korea acknowledged its first COVID-19 infections May 12.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Wednesday that U.S. intelligence shows there’s a “genuine possibility” that North Korea will conduct another ballistic missile test or nuclear test around President Joe Biden’s visit to South Korea and Japan that begins later this week.

After maintaining a dubious claim that it had kept the virus out of the country for two and a half years, North Korea acknowledged its first COVID-19 infections May 12 and has described a rapid spread since. Kim has called the outbreak a “great upheaval,” berated officials for letting the virus spread and restricted the movement of people and supplies between cities and regions.

Workers were mobilized to find people with suspected COVID-19 symptoms who were then sent to quarantine — the main method of curbing the outbreak since North Korea is short of medical supplies and intensive care units that lowered COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in other nations.

State media images showed health workers in hazmat suits guarding Pyongyang’s closed-off streets, disinfecting buildings and streets and delivering food and other supplies to apartment blocks.

Despite the vast numbers of sick people and the efforts to curb the outbreak, state media describe large groups of workers continuing to gather at farms, mining facilities, power stations and construction sites. Experts say North Korea cannot afford a lockdown that would hinder production in an economy already broken by mismanagement, crippling U.S.-led sanctions over Kim’s nuclear weapons ambitions and pandemic border closures.

North Korea also must urgently work to protect its crops from a drought that hit during the crucial rice-planting season — a worrisome development in a country that has long suffered from food insecurity. State media also said that Kim’s trophy construction projects, including the building of 10,000 new houses in the town of Hwasong, are being “propelled as scheduled.”

“All sectors of the national economy are stepping up the production to the maximum while strictly observing the anti-epidemic steps taken by the party and the state,” Korean Central News Agency reported.

The virus controls at workplaces include separating workers by their job classifications and quarantining worker units at construction sites and in its key metal, chemical, electricity and coal industries, KCNA said.

Kee Park, a global health specialist at Harvard Medical School who has worked on health care projects in North Korea, said the country’s number of new cases should start to slow because of the strengthened preventive measures.

But it will be challenging for North Korea to provide treatment for the already large number of people with COVID-19. Deaths may possibly approach tens of thousands, considering the size of its caseload, and international assistance would be crucial, Park said.

An employee of Songyo Knitwear Factory in Songyo district disinfects the work floor in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, May 18, 2022, after Kim Jong Un said Tuesday his party would treat the country's outbreak under the state emergency. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)
An employee of Songyo Knitwear Factory in Songyo district disinfects the work floor in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, May 18, 2022, after Kim Jong Un said Tuesday his party would treat the country’s outbreak under the state emergency. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)

“The best way to prevent these deaths are to treat with antivirals like Paxlovid,” which would significantly lower the risk of severe disease or death, Park said. “This is much faster and easier to implement than sending ventilators to build ICU capacity.”

Other experts say providing a small number of vaccines for high-risk groups such as the elderly would prevent deaths, though mass vaccinations would be impossible at this stage for the population of 26 million.

It’s unclear, however, if North Korea would accept outside help. It already shunned vaccines offered by the U.N.-backed COVAX distribution program, and the nation’s leaders have expressed confidence the country can overcome the crisis on its own.

Kim Tae-hyo, deputy national security adviser for South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, told reporters on Thursday that North Korea has ignored offers of help from South Korea and the United States to contain the outbreak.

Experts have said North Korea may be more willing to accept help from China, its main ally. South Korea’s government had said it couldn’t confirm media reports that North Korea flew planes to bring back emergency supplies from China this week.


U.S. domestic terror bill gets House approval in wake of Buffalo shooting – National

The House passed legislation Wednesday night that would devote more federal resources to preventing domestic terrorism in response to the racist mass shooting in Buffalo, New York.

The 222-203, nearly party-line vote was an answer to the growing pressure Congress faces to address gun violence and white supremacist attacks, a crisis that was escalated following two mass shootings over the weekend.

The House passed a similar measure in 2020 only to have it languish in the Senate. Lacking support in the Senate to move ahead with the gun-control legislation that they say is necessary to stop mass shootings, Democrats are instead pushing for a broader federal focus on domestic terrorism.

Read more:

Biden calls Buffalo mass shooting ‘domestic terrorism,’ condemns ‘replacement theory’

“We in Congress can’t stop the likes of (Fox News host) Tucker Carlson from spewing hateful, dangerous replacement theory ideology across the airwaves. Congress hasn’t been able to ban the sale of assault weapons. The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act is what Congress can do this week to try to prevent future Buffalo shootings,” Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., who first introduced the measure in 2017, said on the House floor.

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The measure seeks to prevent another attack like the one that took place in Buffalo on Saturday. Police say an 18-year-old white man drove three hours to carry out a racist, livestreamed shooting rampage in a crowded supermarket. Ten people were killed.

Click to play video: '‘White supremacy is a poison’: Biden condemns racism, gun violence during Buffalo visit'

‘White supremacy is a poison’: Biden condemns racism, gun violence during Buffalo visit

‘White supremacy is a poison’: Biden condemns racism, gun violence during Buffalo visit

Supporters of the bill say it will fill the gaps in intelligence-sharing among the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security and the FBI so that they can better track and respond to the growing threat of white extremist terrorism.

Under current law, the three federal agencies already work to investigate, prevent and prosecute acts of domestic terrorism. But the bill would require each agency to open offices specifically dedicated to those tasks and create an interagency task force to combat the infiltration of white supremacy in the military.

Read more:

Canada must confront white supremacist ‘trash’ after racist Buffalo shooting: experts

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The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would cost about $105 million over five years, with most of the money going toward hiring staff.

“As we took 9/11 seriously, we need to take this seriously. This is a domestic form of the same terrorism that killed the innocent people of New York City and now this assault in Buffalo and many other places,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who is sponsoring an identical bill in the Senate.

Senate Democrats are pledging to bring up the bill for a vote next week. Its prospects are uncertain, with Republicans opposed to bolstering the power of the Justice Department in domestic surveillance.

Click to play video: '‘This landed on our doorstep, and it’s evil’: Mass shooting forever changes Buffalo, N.Y.'

‘This landed on our doorstep, and it’s evil’: Mass shooting forever changes Buffalo, N.Y.

‘This landed on our doorstep, and it’s evil’: Mass shooting forever changes Buffalo, N.Y.

Republican lawmakers assert that the Justice Department abused its power to conduct more domestic surveillance when Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memo in October aimed at combating threats against school officials nationwide. They labeled the memo as targeting concerned parents.

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GOP lawmakers also say the bill doesn’t place enough emphasis on combatting domestic terrorism committed by groups on the far left. Under the bill, agencies would be required to produce a joint report every six months that assesses and quantifies domestic terrorism threats nationally, including threats posed by white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups.

Read more:

‘Copycat’ shootings becoming deadlier, experts warn after Buffalo attack

“This bill glaringly ignores the persistent domestic terrorism threat from the radical left in this country and instead makes the assumption that it is all on the white and the right,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

The divergence highlights the stubborn gap between Democrats and Republicans over domestic terrorism in the U.S. and how it should be defined and prosecuted.

For decades, terrorism has been consistently tied with attacks from foreign actors, but as homegrown terrorism, often perpetrated by white men, has flourished over the past two decades, Democratic lawmakers have sought to clarify it in federal statute.

“We’ve seen it before in American history. The only thing missing between these organizations and the past are the white robes,” Durbin said. “But the message is still the same hateful, divisive message, that sets off people to do outrageously extreme things, and violent things, to innocent people across America. It’s time for us to take a stand.”

© 2022 The Canadian Press


G7 ministers to discuss impact of Ukraine invasion on global economy

Issued on:

G7 partners meet Thursday hoping to find a solution for Kyiv’s budget troubles as the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to roil the global economy. Follow FRANCE 24’s liveblog for all the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+2). 

07:35am: Ukrainian attack on Russian border town kills civilian, Russian govenor says

One person died and others were injured in southwestern Russia after an attack in a village on the border with Ukraine, the governor of Kursk region said on Thursday. 

“Another enemy attack on Tyotkino, which took place at dawn unfortunately ended in tragedy. At the moment, we know of at least one civilian death,” governor Roman Starovoyt said on Telegram, implying that the attack came from Ukraine. 

He said that according to preliminary information, the victim was a truck driver who was making a delivery to a local distillery, which was struck “several times”. 

Starovoyt added that others were wounded and work was underway to put out fires in the village of around 4,000 people on border with Ukraine, where Russia sent troops on February 24.

“Several houses were damaged. There are also reports of unexploded shells,” Starovoyt said. 

On Telegram, he posted photos showing charred buildings, blown out windows and dents in the ground from where the shells allegedly landed. 

Authorities in Russian regions bordering Ukraine have repeatedly accused Ukrainian forces of launching attacks.

07:24am: Mariupol deserted after weeks of Russian attacks

Ukrainian fighters are reportedly receiving medical care after leaving Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant. In recent days, nearly 1,000 soldiers who spent weeks holed up in the steel plant have surrendered to Russian forces, with some taken into territories controlled by Russian backed separatists.

Mariupol was home to around 500,000 inhabitants at the start of the war, but weeks of Russian attacks have left the city deserted and largely destroyed.

5:15am: Japan doubles its aid to Ukraine

Japan will double fiscal aid for Ukraine to $600 million in a coordinated move with the World Bank to back the country’s near-term fiscal necessities damaged by Russia’s invasion, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters on Thursday.

Japan, a member of the Group of Seven industrialised nations, had previously announced $300 million in loans to Ukraine in April.

04:31am: G7 Finance ministers meeting to discuss Ukraine budget, impact of war on global economy

Finance ministers from the Group of Seven industrialised nations are holding talks in Koenigswinter in western Germany to coordinate their response.

“The bilateral and multilateral support announced so far will not be sufficient to address Ukraine’s needs, even in the short term,” United States Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a speech in Brussels on Tuesday. 

Yellen, who is attending the meeting in Koenigswinter, called on US partners to “join us in increasing their financial support” for war-scarred Ukraine.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)


US to fly in baby formula on military contracted planes

The lack of formula – the result of a perfect storm of supply chain issues and a massive recall – is leaving parents increasingly desperate, and has become a political headache for President Joe Biden as midterm elections loom.

In this file photo taken on 16 May 2022 a sign stands next to a small amount of toddler nutritional drink mix at Target in Stevensville, Maryland as a nationwide shortage of baby formula continues due to supply chain crunches tied to the coronavirus pandemic that have already strained the country’s formula stock, an issue that was further exacerbated by a major product recall in February. Picture: Jim WATSON/AFP

WASHINGTON – The US government will fly in baby formula on commercial planes contracted by the military in an airlift aimed at easing the major shortage plaguing the country, the White House said on Wednesday.

The lack of formula – the result of a perfect storm of supply chain issues and a massive recall – is leaving parents increasingly desperate, and has become a political headache for President Joe Biden as midterm elections loom.

The Department of Defence “will use its contracts with commercial air cargo lines, as it did to move materials during the early months of the COVID pandemic, to transport products from manufacturing facilities abroad that have met Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety standards,” the White House said.

“Bypassing regular air freighting routes will speed up the importation and distribution of formula and serve as an immediate support as manufacturers continue to ramp up production,” it said, dubbing the effort “Operation Fly Formula.”

Biden has also invoked the Defence Production Act to give baby formula manufacturers first priority in supplies.

“Directing firms to prioritize and allocate the production of key infant formula inputs will help increase production and speed up in supply chains,” the White House said.

Initially caused by supply chain blockages and a lack of production workers due to the pandemic, the shortage was exacerbated in February when, after the death of two infants, manufacturer Abbott announced a “voluntary recall” for formula made at its factory in Michigan and shut down that location.

A subsequent investigation cleared the formula, and the FDA reached an agreement on Monday with Abott to resume production. But it will take weeks to get the critical product back on store shelves.


Biden wrote in a letter to the heads of the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services that imports of formula “will serve as a bridge to this ramped up production.”

“I request that you work expeditiously to identify any and all avenues to speed the importation of safe infant formula into the United States and onto store shelves,” the president wrote.

The shortage has left many parents frantic and fearful their infants may starve. Formula is a necessity for many families, particularly in low-income households in which mothers have to return to work almost immediately after giving birth and cannot breastfeed.

A further issue is that prices for the formula that remains have skyrocketed.

The desperation of parents is highlighted on social media, where posts shared hundreds of thousands of times urge people to make formula at home – a move pediatricians warn against.

“It won’t meet your baby’s essential nutritional needs, can be very dangerous to their growth and development, and can even make your baby sick,” Tanya Altmann, author of several parenting books and founder of Calabasas Pediatrics in California, told AFP.

The formula shortage also has political consequences, with the Republican opposition – which has set its sights on wresting back control of Congress in November’s midterm elections – seizing on the issue to berate Biden and the Democrats.

The United States relies on domestic producers for 98% of the baby formula it consumes. The average out-of-stock rate for the key product hit 43% earlier this month, according to Datasembly, which collected information from more than 11,000 retailers.


How Italy’s car-bombed judges shaped fight against mafia

Thirty years ago when anti-mafia Judge Giovanni Falcone was murdered by a car bomb, his death, and two months later of fellow magistrate Paolo Borsellino, marked a transformative change in the fight against organized crime, prosecutors say today.

“It was war and we all felt called up. No one could afford to look away any longer,” said Marzia Sabella, remembering the assassination of Falcone 30 years ago.

Falcone was killed with his wife and bodyguards in a car bombing by Cosa Nostra in Sicily on May 23, 1992, in one of Italy’s most infamous murders.

The killings also inspired a new generation of anti-mafia fighters who, decades on, risk their own lives daily to carry on Falcone and Borsellino’s fight.

Italian Judge Giovanni Falcone (2-L), surrounded by his bodyguards, arrives in Marseille to meet his French counterparts to investigate the Mafia 'Pizza Connection' criminal plot, Marseille, France, Oct. 21, 1986. (AFP File Photo).
Italian Judge Giovanni Falcone (2-L), surrounded by his bodyguards, arrives in Marseille to meet his French counterparts to investigate the Mafia “Pizza Connection” criminal plot, Marseille, France, Oct. 21, 1986. (AFP File Photo).

Sabella, then 27, was training to become a notary but after the massacre in Capaci, a small town in the province of Palermo, “I suddenly swerved off course toward Palermo’s prosecutors’ office”, she told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

“I have never regretted it,” said Sabella, who would go on to be the sole female prosecutor in the investigative team, which in 2006, captured mafioso Bernardo Provenzano – nicknamed “The Tractor” for the way he mowed down enemies.

The deaths of Falcone and Borsellino stunned the country and resulted in tough new anti-mafia laws.

The judges were attributed with revolutionizing the understanding of the mafia, working closely with the first informants and compiling evidence to prosecute hundreds of mobsters at the end of the 1980s in a groundbreaking Maxi Trial.

“Thanks to Falcone and Borsellino, the Sicilian Mafia became a notorious fact, not something that had to be proved to exist at every trial,” Sabella said.

Guarded 24/7

Judge Roberto Di Bella – who obtained his first posting the day before Borsellino and his police escort were blown to pieces on July 19, 1992 – said the murders “prompted nationwide protests … and a decisive cultural change.”

Di Bella has spent much of his career trying to save at-risk children from being drawn into Italy’s wealthy ‘Ndrangheta crime group in Calabria, considered today to be much more powerful than its Sicilian rival.

The 58-year-old, now a judge at the juvenile court in Catania, was assigned an armed escort in 2016 after threats to his life, “which was very difficult, particularly at the start.”

“It started at a low level, then bit by bit it increased to an armored car, and now I have the police accompanying me everywhere I go,” said Di Bella, whose magistrate wife “has had to get used to” a home life under armed guard.

It is a sacrifice many have to make. According to the most recent figures from the interior ministry, some 274 magistrates were under police protection in Italy in 2019.

“You no longer have a private life and your freedom is seriously compromised,” Sabella said.

“But you get used to it and, after a while, the escort becomes part of your family.”

Institutional distancing

Falcone is today a national hero, but in life was accused of attention-seeking and criticized by politicians and fellow magistrates, who both consistently underestimated the power of the mafia.

“Falcone knew he wasn’t understood. Even the failed Adduara attack on him was believed to have been staged, including by those in his circle,” Sabella said about a thwarted 1989 assassination attempt on Palermo’s coast.

The mob felt able to target Falcone because he was perceived to be isolated after being snubbed for the post of chief magistrate in Palermo in 1988, according to judges, who warn of repeating the same mistakes today.

Those concerns prompted a backlash this month over the failure to name Nicola Gratteri, Italy’s foremost ‘Ndrangheta combatant, as national chief anti-mafia prosecutor.

Choosing someone else “would come across as a dangerous institutional distancing from such an exposed magistrate in the eyes of the mafia”, judge Nino Di Matteo argued before the vote.

It risked creating “the conditions for isolation, the most fertile ground for murders and massacres,” he warned.

Giovanni Melillo, an institutional favourite from Foggia, home to Italy’s fourth-largest mafia, was picked instead.

Bodies in the streets

Security services have reportedly just stumbled across fresh plans to assassinate Gratteri, who has been under police guard for 30 years.

Amid fears that not enough is being done, a trade union called last week for a “civilian escort” to help protect and support him.

Falcone’s murder was just one of a string of deadly attacks which abruptly stopped in 1993.

Since then, the Cosa Nostra has been hit repeatedly by mass arrests – but though it has lost much of its power, it is far from vanquished.

And while investigators concentrated on Sicily, other underworld groups flourished.

Sabella compared the mafia to the coronavirus, “If you drop your guard it spreads like before or worse than before.

“If we dropped our guard even for just one month, we’d have to start all over again, collecting the dead from the streets.”

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