Top Italian crime boss arrested in Spain

Spanish police said Thursday they have arrested one of the leaders of Italy’s most powerful organised crime syndicate, the ‘Ndrangheta, which controls much of Europe’s cocaine trade.

Officers detained Domenico Paviglianiti, “one of Italy’s most wanted fugitives”, on the streets of Madrid’s working-class Cuatro Caminos neighbourhood on Monday in a joint operation carried out with Italian police, Spain’s National Police said in a statement.

He was carrying fake Portuguese documentation at the time of his arrest as well as nearly 6,000 euros ($7,000) in cash as well as six mobile phones, it added.

Paviglianiti helped control mafia operations in Italy’s north and in South America. 

Called “the boss of the bosses” by Italian media for his role in crimes committed in the 1980s and 1990s, including murder and drug trafficking, Paviglianiti was arrested in Spain in 1996.

He was extradited three years later to Italy, where he began serving a life sentence, one typically given for top mafia criminals. 

But his lawyers argued that Spain’s extradition conditions did not recognise life imprisonment, a technicality that allowed his early release after serving over 20 years.

Italian prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for him followed a ruling by a high court that found that he had been erroneously released in 2019. 

Spanish police located part of Paviglianiti’s family in Barcelona, where he lived for several months before moving to Madrid.

Police regularly detain members of Italian mafia in Spain, the main entryway into Europe for cocaine from Latin America and hashish from north Africa.

The ‘Ndrangheta is based in the southern region of Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot.

It is considered the most powerful crime syndicate in Italy, having surpassed Sicily’s Cosa Nostra and the Naples-based Camorra, thanks to the wealth it has amassed as the main importer and wholesaler of cocaine produced in Latin America and smuggled into Europe via north Africa and southern Italy.

The name ‘Ndrangheta comes from the Greek for courage or loyalty and the organisation’s tight clan-based structure has made it hard to penetrate.