Manhunt for Italian mafia boss who escaped Uruguayan prison

Morabito - dubbed 'the king of cocaine' - was one of Italy's most-wanted men and had been on the run for 23 years.

    Rocco Morabito photographed during his arrest in Uruguay in 2017 [Interior Ministry handout via AFP]
    Rocco Morabito photographed during his arrest in Uruguay in 2017 [Interior Ministry handout via AFP]

    A manhunt was under way on Tuesday after an Italian mafia boss led a brazen jailbreak in the centre of Uruguay's capital, infuriating the Italian government that awaited his extradition.

    Rocco Morabito, 52, and three other inmates "escaped through a hole in the roof" of a police detention centre in downtown Montevideo late on Sunday, before breaking into a neighbouring apartment and exiting onto the street, Uruguay's interior ministry said.

    Morabito - a top "Ndrangheta [Calabrian organised crime group] figure arrested in Uruguay in 2017 after decades on the run - was awaiting extradition for "international drug trafficking", a statement said.

    Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini reacted angrily to the "disconcerting and serious" news.

    "I make two commitments: first to shed full light on how he escaped, asking for an immediate explanation from the Montevideo government. Then we will continue the hunt for Morabito, wherever he is," Salvini said.

    'King of cocaine'

    Elida Ituarte, a 70-year-old woman who lives in a fifth-floor apartment next to the jail, told AFP news agency she was startled to see four men in her living room at midnight on Sunday.

    "What are you doing? Who are you?" she said she shouted.

    The oldest of the four, apparently Morabito, told her the caretaker had called them to fix a leaking pipe, a shaken Ituarte said.

    She said the four men jumped onto her balcony from the jail's wall, topped with razor wire. On Monday, the razor wire showed signs of being clipped in several places.

    "I left the window open. As I live next to the prison, I felt safe and secure," she said.

    When Ituarte found the keys to let them out, the four men ran down the stairs and onto the street.

    The jail is known as Montevideo's Central Prison, and is located on a busy street surrounded by apartments, restaurants and shops.

    Morabito - dubbed "the king of cocaine" - was one of Italy's most-wanted men when he was arrested in a Montevideo hotel in September 2017. He had been on the run for 23 years.

    A capo with the Ndrangheta - Italy's most feared organised crime gang - Morabito was originally arrested on charges of falsifying identity papers, but has been awaiting extradition on the more serious drug charges since September 2017.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies