An alleged leader of the Camorra crime group nicknamed "The Little One" for her small stature has been arrested in Italy just before she was due to board a flight to Spain.
Maria Licciardi, 70, has been arrested in Rome's Ciampino airport whilst trying to board a one-way flight to Malaga, Spain, where her daughter lives. Licciardi is accused by police and prosecutors of being the leader of a shadowy clan within the Camorra mafia group based in Naples.
The Italian press dubbed Licciardi the "Queen of the Camorra", she was arrested on Saturday with allegedly around 6,000 euros in cash on her.
Within the last decade, women have taken up a much more influential role within Italy's numerous mafia organisations, filing the shoes of husbands, fathers and brothers who are either imprisoned or dead.
Licciardi, known in Neapolitan dialect as "a Piccerella" which translates to "The Little One", inspired the character Scianel who was an aspiring female drug boss in the famous TV series Gomorrah, an award-winning crime drama based around the Camorra mafia.
Since 2009, Licciardi has been accused of being the head of a clan by the name of Alliance of Secondigliano, named after a tough suburb on the outskirts of Naples.
Within the clan Licciardi was known as "Aunty Maria", she managed to escape a large scale police operation in 2019 and has been on the run ever since, declared to be a "fugitive" by senior prosecutor Giovanni Melillo.
Licciardi is set to appear in court this week where she will face charges of mafia association, extortion and receiving money from illegal sources.
The Italian Interior Minister said "Congratulations to the Carabinieri for the operation which led to the arrest of Maria Licciardi. A strong sign of the presence of the state".
Mayor of Naples candidate, Catello Maresca said, "The arrest was a serious blow for the Camorr, It is proof that the mafia can and must be defeated".
Between 2001 and 2009 Licciardi serviced an eight-year prison sentence on mafia-related offences despite in 2013 she claimed she was "just a housewife" who also worked as a shoemaker.
She is also the sister of Gennaro Licciardi, who was the head of the claim until he died in prison in 1994. His nickname was "The Monkey," earned for his skill in scaling across balconies during robberies.
The Licciardi clan had managed to transform the gritty suburb of Secondigliano into "an immense supermarket for drugs," said Roberto Saviano, an investigative journalist whose 2006 book about the Camorra, titled Gomorrah, which inspired the TV series of the same name.
The Alliance of Secondigliano, the clan that Licciardi allegedly commanded, was a “cartel” that was formed in the 1990s between different families, he wrote in Corriere Della Sera newspaper.
Ties of blood are crucial to the survival of the Camorra and it was not surprising that Licciardi had inherited the leadership of the clan from her brother.
“If the concept of family did not exist, the criminal organisations would not exist,” wrote Mr Saviano.
“Marriage is an economic pact between different groups. Sons are there to give protection to property and inheritance. When people ask me, ‘when will the mafia come to an end?’, I answer ‘when families come to an end, when humanity discovers a new form of social organisation’”.