Italy's most wanted drug trafficker caught in Colombia

ROME Sat Jul 6, 2013 3:15pm EDT

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ROME (Reuters) - A suspected Italian mafia boss described as Europe's most wanted drug trafficker and the world's biggest cocaine importer was arrested in Colombia on Saturday and deported to Italy.

Roberto Pannunzi, compared to the late drug lord Pablo Escobar by Colombian authorities, was caught in a Bogota shopping center carrying a false Venezuelan identity card, Colombia's Defense Ministry announced on Twitter.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) worked with Colombian police to find and arrest Pannunzi, the ministry said.

Pannunzi is linked to the powerful Calabrian 'Ndrangheta, a crime syndicate closely associated with Colombian drug cartels. Authorities accuse him of importing two tonnes of cocaine into Europe every month.

Calabria-based prosecutor Nicola Gratteri told Italian daily Corriere della Sera that Pannunzi was "the biggest importer of cocaine in the world".

He was immediately deported after his arrest and arrived late on Saturday evening in Italy, where he has been convicted for drug trafficking. He was taken into custody by police upon arrival at Rome's Fiumicino airport.

Pannunzi was arrested in 2004 but managed to flee detention in 2010 during a Rome hospital stay.

Anti-mafia writer Roberto Saviano wrote on Facebook that Pannunzi's arrest could "change the history of drug-trafficking" and reveal the methods behind such criminal networks.

(Reporting By Catherine Hornby; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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