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Milan's former 'cocaine king' escapes jail

June 24, 2019

Rocco Morabito, once a major cocaine trafficker for Italy's feared 'Ndrangheta mafia, has escaped from a Uruguayan prison. On the run from the law from 1994 to 2017, he was awaiting extradition to Italy.

Rocco Morabito
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Italian Police

Rocco Morabito, the former "king of cocaine"for Italy's brutal 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate, has broken out of a prison in Uruguay during the night. He had been awaiting extradition back to his homeland.

Morabito, 52, was one of Italy's most wanted fugitives for decades, on the run since a 1994 police operation caught him red-handed paying millions to import cocaine into Milan from South America. He initially fled to Brazil, and is believed to have lived in Uruguay since 2002 after entering the country on a false Brazilian passport. He was sentenced to 30 years in jail in absentia in Italy.

Read more: Police target 'Ndrangheta mafia in raids across Europe

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Morabito was arrested in Montevideo in 2017 while staying at a downtown hotel.

According to his lawyer, he was staying at the hotel and not at his lavish Tuscan-style farmhouse northeast of the city because he was in the middle of a divorce.

The Interior Ministry is Montevideo said Monday that Morabito and three other inmates "escaped through a hole in the roof" of a police detention center before robbing a nearby home and fleeing.

On Twitter, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini called the incident "disconcerting and serious" and demanded an explanation from Uruguay.

"Then we will continue the hunt for Morabito, wherever he is."

'Ndrangheta responsible for 3.5% of Italian GDP

In the 1980s and '90s, Morabito was a capo for the 'Ndrangheta's arm in Milan, making friends on the party scene and wooing the financiers and accountants necessary to launder money.

Employed by the Italian Mafia

Although not as famous as the Sicilian Cosa Nostra or the Neopolitan Camorra, the Calabria-based 'Ndrangheta became Italy's richest and most feared crime syndicate in the 1990s and 2000s by operating in the shadows. Its illegal activities are believed to account for 3.5% of Italian GDP.

The group is also known to have infiltrated several levels of local and regional governments in Italy. The region of Calabria is so corrupt that analysts have often described it as a "failed state" within Italy.

es/cmk (AFP, Reuters)

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