Brazil's Federal Police on Monday arrested Rocco Morabito, a fugitive Italian drug lord with ties to the powerful 'Ndrangheta criminal gang, underlining the growing importance of Brazil in the Europe-bound cocaine trade.
Morabito was arrested in a hotel room in the northeastern coastal city of João Pessoa, along with two other foreigners, Brazil's Justice Ministry said in a statement. One of the foreigners was another Italian fugitive it said, without giving further information.
In a separate statement, the Federal Police said that Morabito had been arrested in Uruguay in 2017, after 22 years on the run from Italian justice. He escaped from jail in Uruguay in 2019, when Brazilian authorities began investigating him.
The Federal Police said that Italian police traveled to Brazil for the arrest and were involved in the operation.
"(Morabito) was considered the second most wanted criminal in Italy and accused of involvement with the 'Ndrangheta, considered one of the largest and most powerful criminal organizations in the world," the Justice Ministry said.
It added that Morabito has already been sentenced to 30 years in prison in Italy.
In recent years, Brazil has become a key player in the trans-Atlantic drug trade, with its gangs tying up with Italian, Dutch and Balkan players to move record loads of cocaine to Europe, lured by high prices and growing demand.
Morabito's arrest in the northeast of Brazil also hints at a growing trend in cocaine shipments from the poorer region of the country due to growing scrutiny in the major ports of southeastern Brazil.
The 'Ndrangheta is based in the southern region of Calabria, the toe of Italy's boot, and has surpassed Cosa Nostra to become the most powerful mafia group in the country - and one of the largest crime gangs in the world.