Italian mafia boss escapes from Uruguayan prison

Man was awaiting extradition to Italy

By Tatiana Arias and Eliza Mackintosh, CNN
CNN Video

An Italian mafia boss has escaped from a detention center in Uruguay, where he was awaiting extradition to Italy, the Uruguayan Ministry of Interior said in a statement.

Rocco Morabito, a notorious member of the Ndrangheta, or Calabrian Mafia, has been one of Italy's most-wanted fugitives since 1994.

Morabito was arrested in 2017 in Uruguay after more than 20 years on the run. Convicted in absentia for drug trafficking and organized-crime activities in Italy, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The drug kingpin and three other inmates managed to break out of the National Institute of Rehabilitation (INR) in Montevideo through a hole and out onto the rooftop of the building late on Sunday night. The group robbed a nearby farmhouse before fleeing, according to the ministry.

"Among the fugitives is the Italian Rocco Morabito, who was waiting for his extradition by the Italian justice being investigated for international drug trafficking," the statement said.

Interpol has issued a red notice -- its highest-priority international arrest warrant -- for all four escapees. One of the fugitives is pending extradition to Brazil, and another to Argentina.

In a statement on Twitter, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said it was disconcerting that a criminal like Morabito had managed to escape from a prison in Uruguay while waiting to be extradited to Italy. He pledged to get to the bottom of the escape, and to "keep hunting Morabito, wherever he is, to throw him in jail as he deserves."

When Morabito was arrested in 2017, Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti said he was "considered one of the sought-after members of the Ndrangheta."

Authorities said Morabito -- one of Italy's five most-wanted fugitives -- entered Uruguay in 2001 using false Brazilian identification papers including a bogus birth certificate. He lived in a comfortable rural villa near the town of Maldonado, adjacent to the resort city of Punta del Este, for about a decade.

When he was arrested, Morabito had 13 cell phones, an automatic pistol, 12 credit and debit cards, a large quantity of Uruguayan money and $50,000 in US cash, plus currency certificates worth US $100,000, the Uruguayan Interior Ministry said.

In a search of Morabito's home, authorities seized a 2015 Mercedes and a Portuguese passport in his false Brazilian name. His wife -- an Angolan national with a Portuguese passport -- was also arrested, authorities said.

CNN's Lonzo Cook contributed to this report.

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