- San Paolo Store/YouTube
- Piera Aiello lived under a false identity for 27 years while hiding from the Italian mafia.
- She ran for office anonymously earlier this year, gaining her the name “the faceless candidate.”
- She revealed herself for the first time on Wednesday.
An Italian politician who ran for office anonymously while hiding from the mafia has showed her face for the first time.
Piera Aiello, who lived under police protection and a false identity for 27 years, revealed her face in an interview with The Guardian on Wednesday.
The 51-year-old said:
“After all these years spent behind the scenes, today I can finally look at the world in the face without fear of showing mine.
“It’s like coming back to life. At this precise moment, I feel completely free.”
While campaigning for parliament, Aiello wore a veil to cover her face, could not campaign in public, and could not be photographed. Previous footage of her interviews or press conferences were of the back of her head or the floor while she was speaking.
As a result, she was known as “la candidata senza volto” – “the faceless candidate.”
My latest and #Exclusive for @guardian : After 25 yrs, #Italy 's 'ghost politician', forced to run for office anonymously due to #Mafia threats, has finally revealed to the public after winning seat in #Parliament
ph by @FrancescoBellin #Italia @Mov5Stelle https://t.co/c707A7QFYZ
— Lorenzo Tondo (@lorenzo_tondo) June 13, 2018
Aiello won more than 51% of the vote in Marsala, Sicily, in Italy’s general elections earlier this year as a candidate for the Five Star Movement.
Since entering parliament she has found it too complicated to avoid photographers and cameras in Rome, which prompted her to finally reveal her face, The Guardian said.
She has also become a prominent anti-mafia campaigner in parliament, encouraging witnesses living in fear of the mafia to speak out.
Because of her campaigns she remains a mafia target, and will continue to live and travel with a police escort.
The video below shows Aiello giving an interview while wearing a veil and facing away from the camera.
Aiello was taken into witness protection in 1991 after watching her husband, Nicolò, the son of local mafia boss Vito Atria, get shot in front of her at their pizzeria. Aiello would have been about 23 at the time.
Nicolò had talked too often about avenging his father’s death, which took place six years earlier, until a rival mafia clan took matters into their own hands, Aiello told The Guardian in March.
“We had a pizzeria in Partanna [southwestern Sicily]. Two men entered the room in the evening. They had guns. They looked my husband in the face and fired. He fell before me, covered in blood.
“I knew them. They were two mafia killers and they had known my husband since they were children.”
She added that although she hated her husband, she had to speak out against the atrocities she witnessed. Don Vito, Nicolò’s father, forced her to marry Nicolò when she was 14 – “otherwise he would have killed my whole family” – and Nicolò beat her, Aiello said.
“I could not stand my husband, but he was still a boy. He was only 27 when he fell into my arms, riddled with bullets,” Aiello said.
Immediately after Nicolò’s death, Aiello went to see a magistrate in the Sicilian capital of Palermo, who advised her to leave Sicily and rebuild her her life under a false identity. She then became a police informant on her husband’s mafia clan, which ultimately led to dozens of arrests in the 1990s.
She said: “While my peers went to the beach, I spent my time in the police station telling the secrets of my husband’s mafia family.”
- Wikimedia Commons
Aiello’s popularity despite not being able to show her face is a testament to many Sicilians’ fear of the mafia.
While the Italian government has cracked down on the country’s mafia, organised crime remains a major threat to the country.
The ‘Ndrangheta gang based in Calabria, the region next to Sicily, has extended its drugs and arms trafficking and extortion businesses into northern Europe, the US, and Canada.
Earlier this year police arrested 169 clan members and their associates, which included three Italian mayors and managers of a government-financed migrant shelter in southern Italy.
More than 5,000 restaurants in Italy also have ties to the €21.8 billion ($26 billion/£19 billion) “agro-mafia” business, which include harvesting and distribution.