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'Cocaine King Of Milan' On The Run After Uruguay Jailbreak

Rocco Morabito, pictured after his arrest in 2017, escaped from the Uruguayan prison where he was awaiting extradition to Italy.
Italian Police via AP
Rocco Morabito, pictured after his arrest in 2017, escaped from the Uruguayan prison where he was awaiting extradition to Italy.

Uruguayan officials have launched a manhunt for an Italian organized crime boss known as the Cocaine King of Milan who escaped on Sunday from a detention center where he was awaiting extradition to Italy, the Uruguayan Ministry of Interior said in a statement.

Rocco Morabito and three other inmates made a brazen escape from the prison in Montevideo, climbing through a hole in the roof of the building. Reports from ministry officials indicated that the men eventually broke into a neighboring property, robbed the owner, then fled.

But El Observador reportsthat one of the four men, a Brazilian also waiting to be extradited to his home country, actually avoided the hassle of the daring jailbreak by simply walking through a side door of the building "without anyone stopping him."

Morabito, who is believed to be the son of another famed mobster with the same name, was one of the 10 most wanted criminals in the world in 2017 as the leader of the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta — one of Italy's most powerful organized crime groups.

A 2013 Europol reportfound the 'Ndrangheta "now recognised as a major threat not only in Italy but also in many other countries where it operates, including Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, US, Colombia and Australia."

The drug kingpin was sentenced in absentia to 30 years in prison in Italy. Authorities have been chasing him since he was caught trying to import nearly a ton of cocaine into the country from Brazil in 1994.

Morabito had been living on the run for more than two decades under a false identity but was eventuallycaptured after trying to enroll his daughter in a school using his real name.

El Observador reported the director of prisons has resigned following Sunday's escape.

According to the newspaper, officials were warned a year ago about an escape plan hatched by Morabito bearing an eerie resemblance to the weekend's events. The only major difference between the 2018 plan and what happened around midnight Sunday is that in the earlier version Morabito was set to escape from the sixth floor of the penitentiary onto the roof of a supermarket — not a neighboring apartment building.

Italy's minister of the interior, Matteo Salvini, was furious over the breakout.

"I make two commitments. First: to shed light on the methods of evasion, asking for immediate explanations from the Montevideo government. Second: continue to hunt down Morabito, wherever he is, to throw him in jail as he deserves," Salvini wrote on Twitter.

Interpol has issued a red notice — its highest-priority international arrest warrant — for all four escapees.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.
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