ROME (AP) — A convicted mobster who was one of Italy’s most-wanted fugitives and reputedly one of the world’s most powerful drug brokers, arrived in Rome Wednesday, extradited by Brazil after 28 years on the lam.
Rocco Morabito held the No. 2 position on the list of Italy’s most wanted and dangerous mobsters. He was convicted two decades ago in absentia of drug trafficking as part of the ‘ndrangheta organized crime syndicate, which does billions of euros (dollars) in cocaine business.
Italian police describe him as one of the world’s top drug brokers. Morabito, 55, must serve a 30-year prison sentence after being convicted in absentia by a court in Milan in 2001.
He was arrested in May 2021 by Brazilian police in a joint operation with Italian and U.S. investigators. Morabito had earlier been arrested in Uruguay in 2017, but escaped from prison there two years later.
Italian police have been searching for him since 1994.
Calabria-based anti-Mafia prosecutors say Morabito played a big role in cocaine trafficking between South America and Milan, a key distribution point for the drug to be sold elsewhere in Italy and across Europe.
In addition to drug trafficking, Morabito has been convicted in Italy of mafia association.
When he was captured in 2017 in Uruguay, Morabito was living in a luxury villa in a seaside resort using an alias and a false Brazilian passport, authorities said at the time. During his arrest in a Montevideo hotel, police also seized a 9mm gun, 13 cell phones and a stash of cash, as well as a Mercedes coupe.
Still No. 1 on Italy’s list of most-wanted mafia bosses is Matteo Messina Denaro, considered to still wield top power in Cosa Nostra in Sicily despite being a fugitive since 1993.
In recent decades, the ‘ndrangheta has eclipsed the Sicilian Mafia in power and scope, spreading its branches throughout much of Europe as it launders cocaine revenues by infiltrating or buying up legitimate businesses like restaurants and hotels, investigations have found.
A small army of turncoats helped prosecutors put many Cosa Nostra bosses behind bars for life. The ’ndrangheta, built around strong family ties, has been less hurt by devastating betrayals of crime clan loyalties.