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The Central Prison of Montevideo, Uruguay, where Rocco Morabito staged a high-profile escape. June 24, 2019
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Russian citizens suspected of helping esсaped ‘Cocaine King of Milan’ arrested in Uruguay

Source: Meduza
The Central Prison of Montevideo, Uruguay, where Rocco Morabito staged a high-profile escape. June 24, 2019
The Central Prison of Montevideo, Uruguay, where Rocco Morabito staged a high-profile escape. June 24, 2019
Matilde Campodonico / AP / Scanpix / LETA

On July 10, Interpol worked with local police in Montevideo, Uruguay, to arrest a group of Russian citizens suspected of aiding the Italian mafia boss Rocco Morabito, who has escaped from a prison the Uruguayan capital. Reports on the arrest were published in the Uruguayan publications Subrayado, Ecos, Montevideo Portal, and El Observador.

The police raid took place in a downtown Montevideo pizzeria. It ended with the arrest of a Russian citizen and an Italian citizen who called themselves the establishment’s owners as well as another Russian citizen who said she worked as a cook at the restaurant. According to Subrayado and Ecos, a minor was arrested along with them. Subrayado reported that he was the son of one of the pizzeria’s owners.

Vasilisa Fofanova, the press secretary for the Russian Embassy in Uruguay, notified the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti that three Russian citizens had been arrested. “The embassy received notice of the arrests of three suspected Russian citizens just 20 minutes ago by email. We are looking into the situation. We do not yet know why they were arrested,” Fofanova said.

Morabito himself was not found inside the pizzeria. According to El Observador, police already knew he would not be present there. They had planned to arrest individuals who might have information about how the criminal leader escaped from Montevideo’s Central Prison and where he might be hiding; they did not expect to catch the mafia boss himself.

Rocco Morabito. This mugshot was published by the Uruguayan Interior Ministry after Morabito’s escape.
Uruguay’s Interior Ministry / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

53-year-old Rocco Morabito is the most wanted member of the criminal gang ‘Ndrangheta, which is based in the Italian province of Calabria. ‘Ndrangheta is considered to be the most influential mafia-like structure in Italy and one of the largest importers of South American cocaine into Europe. Morabito, who is known as “the Cocaine King of Milan,” has been wanted since 1994, when he was caught paying for almost a ton of cocaine. At the time, Morabito managed to escape from a detention center. An Italian court sentenced him in absentia to 30 years in prison.

Morabito arrived in Uruguay in 2001 (or 2002, depending on the source) and began living there under the assumed identity of Brazilian citizen Francisco Antonio Capeletto Souza. He lived with his wife in a suburban villa near the resort town of Punta del Este. Uruguayan police arrested Morabito in 2017. A search of his home turned up 13 mobile phones, 12 debit and credit cards, a pistol, and at least $50,000 in cash. Police concluded that the organized crime leader had continued participating in the drug trade while in Uruguay.

In March of 2018, an Uruguayan court approved a request to extradite Morabito to Italy. By the end of June 2019, however, the crime boss had escaped from Montevideo’s Central Prison, where he was held to await extradition. He and three other arrestees had managed to dig a hole through the roof of the prison hospital. According to Ecos, all of the escapees except for Morabito have since been caught. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Salvini demanded an explanation of the drug kingpin’s escape from Uruguayan authorities and promised to “continue the hunt for Morabito no matter where he goes.”

Report by Olga Korelina

Translation by Hilah Kohen