After 23 years on the run, one of Italy’s most wanted mobsters – the so-called “cocaine king of Milan” – has been arrested at a hotel in Uruguay.
Uruguayan and Italian authorities said Rocco Morabito, 50, a fugitive boss of Italy’s most powerful organised crime group, the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta, had been living with false papers in the southern coastal resort of Punta del Esta for more than a decade.
Uruguayan police said Morabito, the target of an international arrest warrant since 1995, was detained after a six-month investigation that was triggered after he enrolled his daughter at a local school under his own name.
Morabito, who obtained Uruguayan papers after presenting a false Brazilian passport in the name of Francisco Capeletto, was arrested on Monday at a luxury hotel in Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital, along with his wife, reportedly an Angolan national.
A search of his properties uncovered 13 mobile phones, 12 bank cards, two cars, 150 passport-sized photos of him in various guises plus a Portuguese passport, a quantity of jewels, about $50,000 (£38,500) in cash and a 9mm pistol, the Uruguayan interior ministry said.
In a statement, Marco Minniti, Italy’s interior minister, congratulated Italian and Uruguayan police for a joint operation that resulted in the apprehension of “the No 1 fugitive” from the ‘Ndrangheta.
Sentenced to 30 years in prison in Italy, Morabito had been sought by police since 1994 after attempting to import almost a tonne of cocaine, worth 13bn lire (£6m), into Italy from Brazil, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
Also suspected of transporting the drug to Milan from elsewhere in the country, he was wanted on charges of belonging to a criminal organisation devoted to international drug trafficking, the Italian interior ministry said.
Thought to have arrived in Uruguay in 2002, Morabito has has been leading “a normal life” since 1994 and has not engaged in any criminal activities since, his lawyer told Italian media.
Pending a formal Italian extradition request, he will be held in Uruguay for at least the next three months for false papers and identity theft, the Uruguayan interior ministry said.
Federico Cafiero de Raho, chief prosecutor for the Calabria region, said Morabito had played “a major role” in cocaine trafficking between South America and Milan, a distribution point for the drug to be sold elsewhere.
He described Morabito as “a key figure” in the ‘Ndrangheta mob, which controls a large part of the world’s cocaine trade.
Italian prosecutors have suggested the organisation tries to ensure the size and quality of its cocaine deals live up to dealer expectations by placing top gang bosses in Latin American so they can be closer to the drug’s producers.
The arrest ticks off one of the Italian interior ministry’s top five list of most wanted organised crime bosses, which also includes the Sicilian mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro.
Last year Italian anti-mafia police caught two other fugitive ’Ndrangheta bosses after discovering them “living like animals” in a mountain hideout stocked with an arsenal of weapons.
Giuseppe Ferraro, 47, and Giuseppe Crea, 37, both high-ranking members of the organisation, had been on Italy’s list of most dangerous fugitives. Ferraro, convicted of a string of brutal murders, had been on the run for 18 years. Crea, wanted for mafia association and extortion, disappeared 10 years ago.
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