Brazil Hands Over ‘Ndrangheta Mafia Boss to Italy

Published: 11 July 2022

Rocco4Brazilian authorities extradited the "Cocaine King of Milan" – Rocco Morabito, to Italy. (Photo: INTERPOL, License)

By Vinicius Madureira

Brazil extradited one of the most prominent leaders of the ‘Ndrangheta mafia, who was on the run for over two decades after an Italian court sentenced him to 30 years for international drug trafficking.

Rocco Morabito, or the “Cocaine King of Milan,” was handed over to Italian authorities last week after Brazil’s Supreme Court approved his extradition in March.

“The ‘Ndrangheta are not just an Italian issue; they represent a global threat and have exploited links with organized crime groups in South America to enrich themselves,” Director General of the Brazilian Federal Police Márcio Nunes de Oliveira said.

Morabito managed to stay under the radar until 2017, when he apparently used his real name to enroll his daughter to a school in Uruguay, where he had established himself after having spent some time living in Brazil also under a fake identity.

Police said he used to live a swanky life in the city of Punta del Este, a resort for Latin and North American jet-setters and tourists. Uruguayan authorities arrested him in the lobby of a hotel in Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital.

After serving two years in a Montevideo prison, Morabito and three other foreigners managed to escape just before he was set to be extradited to Italy, the Uruguayan Interior Minister said. In 2019, Interpol issued a red notice against the alleged drug lord.

Uruguay’s director of prisons, Alberto Gadea, resigned during investigations into which prison officials were involved in the escapes.

Later Morabito was spotted in a city in northern Brazil. Authorities arrested him in João Pessoa in May 2021.

Morabito’s lawyer tried to block the extradition proceedings, even seeking political asylum for his client. However, justices of Brazil’s Supreme Court said that the sentences imposed by Italian courts are for ordinary crimes, not political ones. They added that “Italy is a democracy.”

“The extradition of Rocco Morabito sends a powerful message: however strong the criminal web of mafia groups may be, our global police network is stronger,” Italian Antimafia Prosecutor Giovanni Bombardieri said.

Morabito’s extradition is a result of INTERPOL Cooperation Against ‘Ndrangheta (I-CAN), an initiative which connects specialized police units across borders to share intelligence and partner on operations to combat the ‘Ndrangheta. I-CAN has already helped arrest more than 25 fugitives since its launch in 2020.