An alleged mafia boss nicknamed "the King of Cocaine" has been captured in South America after 23 years on the run.

Rocco Morabito, who was wanted by Italian police for allegedly masterminding the trafficking of cocaine from Latin America to Europe, was arrested in a hotel in Uruguay.

He is considered to be one of Italy's five most dangerous fugitives and has been on the run from arrest since 1994, according to Daily Telegraph.

During a search of his home in Uruguay, police found 13 mobile phones, which investigators said were used for drug deals, a 9mm pistol, ammunition, a hunting knife and 150 passport photos of himself in different guises.


Morabito, an alleged kingpin in the 'Ndrangheta mafia, is believed to have been living in Uruguay for around a decade under the alias Francisco Capeletto Souza. He had been able to obtain Brazilian identity documents as well as the right to live in Uruguay.

His arrest was the result of a joint operation between police in South America and investigators in Calabria, the home of the much-feared 'Ndrangheta.

The organized crime network, which for years has been extending its reach from its home territory to other parts of the world, makes millions by smuggling cocaine into Europe, often via Italy.

Aerial view of the villa where Italian mafia fugitive Rocco Morabito lived in the resort town of Punta del Este, Uruguay. Photo / AP
Aerial view of the villa where Italian mafia fugitive Rocco Morabito lived in the resort town of Punta del Este, Uruguay. Photo / AP

Italian police described Morabito as "one of the most important members of the 'Ndrangheta".

He was arrested in a hotel in Punta del Este, a tourist resort about 90 miles from the capital, Montevideo.

The arrest came "after months of intense international cooperation in intelligence matters," the Italian police said in a statement. His false identity was known to Interpol and when he checked into the hotel, an alert was generated.

"He didn't put up any resistance," said Emilio Russo, an Italian officer involved in the investigation.

"He tried to deny who he really was, but when put under pressure admitted to his real identity.


"We maintain that Morabito was still actively involved in criminality. He was not a former member of the 'Ndrangheta, he was still very much an active member."

His wife, a 54-year-old Angolan woman with a Portuguese passport, was also arrested.

When police searched their home, also in Punta del Este, they found the 13 mobile phones and weapons, as well as a dozen credit cards. A Mercedes car was impounded.

Morabito is expected to be extradited back to Italy in the coming months, where he faces 30 years in prison for various crimes, including mafia association and drug trafficking.

Italy's most notorious fugitive remains Matteo Messina Denaro, the alleged head of the Cosa Nostra mafia in Sicily, who has been on the run for 24 years.

His ability to elude capture has earned him almost mythical status among some Sicilians, and he has not been seen in public for years.

He is among the 10 most wanted criminals in the world, according to Forbes magazine.

He is alleged to have killed up to 50 people and once boasted: "I filled a cemetery all by myself."

It is believed that he moves between safe houses in the Trapani area of western Sicily.