The world is small and full of unexpected connections. When Donald Trump called a G7 meeting in May 2017, he wanted it to be in Sicily. Despite the objections of the Italian police and the embarrassment of the American government, Trump wanted to go to Taormina at any cost because he has a longstanding good friend there. This friend is a 73-year-old man with an unkempt, even shabby, appearance, but with an extraordinary history and a secret behind him. In his way he’s a king. His name is Costantino Carlo Maria Papale, but everyone in Taormina calls him Dino.
His has been one of the richest families in the splendid Sicilian city for over two hundred years, and he lives there like royalty. In Taormina, despite the tragic death of his second wife, who was hit by a friend’s car after a party, he will never be alone. He lives with his sister Maria Teresa, queen of this kingdom, in a magnificent palace. She is the president of the Taormina Art and Culture Association, which coordinates 15 art galleries and sponsors 41 local artists and many international celebrities. Dino and Maria Teresa were so important to Trump that he paid their tickets to New York to celebrate his election as President of the United States, so he could celebrate the victory with the friends from Taormina he’d met in 2013.
Over two centuries of history and nobility
Lady Florence Trevelyan (on the right), Great Grandmother of Dino Papale
Dino is the son of a surgeon, who was an important man in the Messina aristocracy. Doctor Carlo Papale, Count of Paternò Castello, was the son of Constantine Papale, the chief of the Messina Health Department immediately after the unification of Italy. He has a long pedigree of aristocratic forbears; the Counts of Barcelona and Aragon, the Counts of Provence and the Dukes of Altavilla.
The Papale family owned 48 large estates in the 16th century, had a seat in the Royal Parliament of Spain, and their tenants worked on 80,000 hectares of land. This vast estate was expropriated in 1860 on the orders of General Giuseppe Garibaldi, following the annexation of Sicily to the Kingdom of Italy. For this reason, the Papale family hates Italy and have always been partisans of EVIS, the army of the MIS (Sicilian Independence Movement).
Dino’s mother, Giuseppina Acrosso, was the daughter of the gauleiter of Taormina, one of the most powerful of Italian fascist leaders. After the war Acrosso became the local leader of the Monarchist Party, founder of the Rotary-Club of Taormina and Grand Master of the local Masonic lodge as was Dino’s great-grandfather in the mid 19th century. Famous as the mayor of Taormina, he married Lady Florence Trevelyan. She was the ex-lover of the English King Edward VII, before his accession, and a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria. Florence Trevelyan’s dowry contributed significantly to the family’s property.
With this money and the titles behind him, Dino lived a bohemian life as a boy. At 20, in 1967, he married a famous French tennis player, Evelyne Terras. During their ten years of marriage, they had a daughter, Magali, who’s now an established painter in Toulon. His second wife, Mariella Benedetto, was a surgeon, also from an aristocratic family.
After the divorce from Evelyne in 1977, Dino, who had spent his teenage years between Monte Carlo, Paris and Turin, returned to Taormina to manage family wealth and became a landmark of the city. He‘s been mayor or city councilor from 1984 to the present day, without interruption. Since retiring he is a pro bono city councilor for tourism.
Dino likes to work. For almost a decade he has been organizing Taormina’s Goethe media awards, one of the most important cultural events in Eastern Sicily, as well as dozens of other initiatives of cultural excellence. He moves among the jury and award-winning artists in the city, relating to important intellectuals such as President of the Nobel Prize for Literature Committee, Kjell Espmark, the writer Alberto Bevilacqua, the songwriter Roberto Vecchioni, the singer from ‘Simple Minds’, Jim Kerr and many other celebrities.
The connection with Russia and with Donald Trump
Dino’s circle of friends meets in Moscow
Dino’s work awarding Taormina’s Goethe media awards led to closer links to Russia, as Russian writers were among the winners of the prize. In 2013 Papale received the Medal of the Order of Peter II, which was personally presented to him by the Russian Consul General for Sicily, Vladimir Korotkov. Korotkov is a former tennis player and has been friends with Dino Papale for over 50 years.
Since Vladimir Putin came to power, Papale has also organized a prize for Russian poets named after Anna Achamatova, a poet loved by the Russian president. It takes place during an annual summer festival that is named after Russia. The festival is sponsored by the Moscow government and directed by a famous writer, Marina Knyazeva.
By organizing these awards, Dino Papale is realizing his dream, the expansion of the port of Giardini Naxos, a seaside resort near Taormina. The expansion is financed by a consortium of Russian banks and built by Russotti Finance Russfin SpA Milan, one of the largest Sicilian construction companies, which is closely associated with Ignazio Salvo and other powerful mafia members.
Dino Papale knows all these people because for 40 years he was the best friend of Elena Baronoff, an heiress who after leaving the Soviet Union for Florida made billions from real estate speculation on the islands off Miami, the luxurious Sunny Isles Beach, home to some of the most important plutocrats in the world. Thanks to Papale and Baranoff, Sunny Isles Beach was twinned with Taormina in 2012.
Ms. Baranoff was able to make this investment thanks to her partner and mentor Donald Trump, who knew her because she was a longstanding friend of his daughter Ivanka. By the time Ms. Baranoff died of leukemia, in 2015, Papale had developed a very close friendship with Trump, and also, very secret relationships with Russian power, since Ms. Baronoff had worked secretly with the Moscow government.
The Papale family has had a love of Russia for over a century. Even today, Maria Teresa, Dino’s sister, is the leader of the Sicily-Russia Association, following her father and grandfather  and the supporters of the MIS Army. Why? Because at the end of the war, after seeing that the United States had allied itself with the mafia, Stalin decided to support this Sicilian separatist movement, since many Russian exiles still lived on the island.
In 2006 Maria Teresa Papale herself was elected head of the MIS and has been fighting for the political, diplomatic and economic interests of Russia in Sicily with the government in Rome. The Papale family has also developed new alliances and friendships with the Russian mafia clan Solntsevskaya. The clan’s lawyer, Dmitry Jakubowski, is a welcome guest in Taormina today. One of the clan leaders, Alexander Jakowlew, had a trading office in Milan. One of his managers, Anatoli Borisovich Zhuralev, works with the Papale art galleries and often visits Taormina with Dmitry Jakubowski.
Trouble with the law.
Dino Papale, in sandals, in the splendor of his palace
It is impossible to hold such an exposed position in Sicily and never get into trouble with the judiciary. In 2008, the Guardia di Finanza of Messina, in collaboration with the local anti-mafia office, arrested eight people who belonged to a group of 21 pushers who worked in Taormina and throughout the provinces of Messina and Catania. The center of drug trafficking was in a pool room of the Catania Mangialupi clan, and included two of Dino’s relatives: Uncle Domenico Papale and nephew Antonino Papale. The group was arrested with 400 grams of cocaine and 40,000 euros in hand.
They cooperated with the judiciary and reported on their ties to Rosario Lizzio, called “Il Lupo” (The Wolf), one of the leaders of the Mafia in Taormina and Giardini Naxos. Il Lupo has also worked with Russian and Albanian gangsters. After long trials, all of them received minimal prison terms, since many crimes were time-barred. Lizzio went into politics in Taormina and nominated one of his relatives, Diego Grillo, to Dino Papale’s list.
There was also an important investigation into Dino Papale personally, led by the ex-Prosecutor of Messina, Angelo Giorgianni. The investigation was based on suspicions of fraud, corruption, tax evasion, arms trafficking and money laundering, and was initially directed at the President of Messina Province, Giuseppe “Pino” Naro, and the Mayor of Messina, Mario Bonsignore. A few days later, the President of the Parliament of the Region of Sicily, Paolo Piccione and the Governor of Sicily, Vincenzino Leanza were also incriminated by the allegations.
The investigations reached Rome. The Secretary of State for Telecommunications, Giuseppe Astone, the President of the Highways Consortium, Vincenzo Ardizzone and the Socialist Minister Nicola Capria were all accused.
Dino Papale was implicated by the politicians’ confessions and was arrested in the summer of 1994, but was released shortly afterwards. Since the trial never took place, he came out of this ugly affair blameless. Giorgianni subsequently left the judiciary because he was unable to prosecute due to the statute of limitations, which stopped the investigations and made the resulting trials completely pointless.
Dino is still not tired of fighting for an international Taormina. Among the legal accusations against him was the cost, and funding source, of inviting Seif Al-Islam, favorite son and designated heir to Muammar Gaddafi, to Taormina in 2006. In fact, Papale was innocent; Elena Baranoff had paid the money, hoping to convince Seif Al-Islam to marry one of Vladimir Putin’s daughters. Difficult to believe, but true.
In the years that followed, Papale overcame all threats, including those related to the bankruptcy of the “Taormina Arte” festival, in which many of the politicians arrested by the Giorgianni prosecutor were involved, but for which Papale was absolutely innocent.
The big little secret
The Papale family at the end of the 30’s
We didn’t write this story to judge anyone. Despite his humble appearance, Dino Papale is not the king of Taormina by chance. His family really has had at least two centuries of fame and innovation behind it, something that we might find it difficult to connect with the deep Sicilian coastal province between Messina and Catania. All of Dino’s ancestors have amazing stories to tell, especially those that smile from photos almost a century old. This image of stability stems from the secret that Taormina was a fief of the Spanish Kingdom of the Two Sicilies since the time of the French Revolution. In Taormina the restoration was carried out immediately after the Congress of Vienna.
Here is the big little secret: there is no need to travel the world, make sure the world has a reason to come to you. Dino Papale was one of the founding members of the Women’s Tennis Association when he was walking around on the tennis courts. That’s another thing you would never believe when looking at him. But it is true, like the whirlwind of Russian baronesses, English exiles, Soviet poets, American real estate gods, Scottish pop singers, Sicilian secessionists, heroes, mafia members and Freemasons who have been revolving around him all his life.
At a time when we are looking closely at globalization, this truly globalised family has never moved a millimeter in the past few centuries. And whatever his past is, it is not fearsome, and when you hear Dino Papale speak delightfully and tastelessly about himself, his friends, and his family, you cannot hold back a smile. On top of that, when Trump came for the G7, he forgot to visit his old Sicilian friend.
 Scheda Cerved Costantino Papale
 http://www.taorminainforma.it/taormina-assegnato-lincarico-consulente-la-promozione-grandi-eventi-taormina-all-avv-costantino-papale/, http://www.comune.taormina.me.it/il-comune/incarichi-esterni-l-244-2007-prova/pdf/anno-2010/det_s_n.222_del_16.12.2010.pdf
 Jim Kerr owns one of the most beautiful Hotels of Taormina, Villa Angela (https://www.hotelvillaangela.com/it/), a luxury villa, where he lives with his brother Paul, as well as a local football team, called Celtic Taormina (http://archiviostorico.gazzetta.it/2002/ottobre/15/Kerr_unisce_sue_passioni_ecco_ga_0_0210153557.shtml?refresh_ce-cp), in which he used to play, as he was younger
 https://www.strill.it/citta/2012/07/taormina-me-concluso-il-premio-internazionale-di-giornalismo-worfgang-goethe/ ; https://www.sicilydistrict.eu/news/russia/taormina-per-2-giorni-diventa-russa-per-ricordare-nicola-ii-imperator-russian-delegation-in-taormina-8-9-jun-2012/6193
 https://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/person.asp?personId=240475413&privcapId=240326786 : “Ms. Elena A. Baronoff is the Founder of PrivateCollection&Co., Llc and serves as its Chairman. Ms. Baronoff’s experience serving as a cultural attaché in public diplomacy with the Russian government, combined with her determination was key to her success over the last ten years in marketing and building the brand of high-end luxury condominiums under the Trump brand including Trump Towers, Trump Grande and the Trump International Hotel and Beach Resort. She served as the Chief Executive Officer of Exclusively Baronoff Llc, she licensed and branded the Lalique and Clive Christian brands in real estate for the international market, building on the strategy that was instrumental in elevating the Trump license. In 2008, she was awarded the title of International Ambassador of the City of Sunny Isles Beach for her years of work promoting local commerce and building the city’s profile among the international community. Her knowledge extends far beyond real estate and her entrepreneurial spirit combined with her experience with luxury brands allows her to grow her third venture PrivateCollection&Co. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications from Briar Cliff University and received a Master’s degree in Journalism in Russia”.
 http://www.lavocedinewyork.com/news/politica/2015/12/17/indipendentisti-e-stampa-siciliana-censura-o-distrazione/ ; http://www.lavocedinewyork.com/lifestyles/2015/05/19/arte-cultura-a-taormina-maria-teresa-papale-il-sogno-e-il-cuore-di-una-sicilia-libera-e-indipendente/
 Si Trans Ltd. filiale italiana ; Si Trans OOO Moscow
 Conversazione con Italo Mennella, Assessore alla Cultura del Comune di Taormina e Direttore dell’Archivio Storico di Taormina, del 4 settembre 2017
 Marcello La Rosa, “Il fenomeno mafioso: il caso Messina”, Armando Editore, Roma 2013, pagine 147-148;
 2004.01.21 Gazzetta del Sud; 2004.08.26 Gazzetta del Sud
 http://www.jonicareporter.it/intrattenimento/item/1653-taormina-arte-e-i-giochi-della-politica-mascherati-da-campanilismo.html ; http://www.blogtaormina.it/2017/02/13/costituita-la-fondazione-taormina-arte-ufficiale-la-delibera-trasformazione-del-comitato/234840 ; http://ricerca.repubblica.it/repubblica/archivio/repubblica/1997/07/08/scandalo-truffa-taormina-arte.html ; http://ricerca.repubblica.it/repubblica/archivio/repubblica/1995/06/09/cosi-vogliono-delegittimarci.html