Saturday, July 6, 2013


Domenico Trimboli,'World's biggest cocaine dealer' deported to Italy

ROME — An Italian mafia capo alleged to be the biggest cocaine trafficker in the world will be deported to Italy on Saturday, a day after being arrested in a Colombian shopping mall, prosecutors said.

Domenico Trimboli

Roberto Pannunzi, 65, who fled from a Rome prison in 2010, was detained in Bogota with a fake Venezuelan identity card in a joint operation by Colombian police and the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

"He is the biggest cocaine importer in the world," said Nicola Gratteri, deputy chief prosecutor in Reggio Calabria in southern Italy -- a bastion of the 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate Pannunzi belonged to.

"He is the only one who can organise purchases and sales of cocaine shipments of 3,000 kilos (6,600 pounds) and up," Gratteri told reporters.

"Pannunzi is the only one who can sell both to the 'Ndrangheta and to Cosa Nostra. He is definitely the most powerful drug broker in the world," he said.

Gratteri said Pannunzi was being deported since "an extradition order would have taken several months".

He is expected to land at Rome's Fiumicino airport later on Saturday.

The arrest of Pannunzi, known by his associates as "Bebe" ("Baby"), is being hailed as a major victory.

"Bebe is not a mafioso, not a killer, Bebe is a broker," said Roberto Saviano, an Italian investigative journalist who published a book on the global cocaine trade earlier this year.

"His arrest could change the history of drug trafficking in Italy and internationally," he said.

"He was a sort of Copernicus of cocaine. He changed the way the business works, he understood the new dynamics of the cocaine market," Saviano said.

"He collected money from the various families, often rival families, and bought cocaine in Colombia. He could manage fleets of ships to bring it to Europe."

In April, Colombia captured another suspected top mafioso, Domenico Trimboli, alleged to be a lynchpin between the Medellin drug cartel and the 'Ndrangheta.

Pannunzi has to serve out a 16 and a half year prison sentence in Italy.

He had escaped from a private clinic in Rome which he managed to have himself transferred to from prison because of a heart condition -- repeating an earlier flight in the same way in 1999.

He was previously been detained in Colombia at a mafia funeral in 1994, when he reportedly offered the arresting officers a million dollars in cash to walk away.

Italian media reported that Pannunzi had close ties with the leaderships of Colombian and Mexican drug cartels, as well as historic Sicilian Cosa Nostra godfathers like Bernardo Provenzano.

He reportedly mediated in the release of a Sicilian mafia boss who was being held hostage by Colombian drug traffickers over a deal gone bad.

He is known for his impeccable dress sense and during the 1980s one of his covers while he was rising in the heroin trade was working in an upmarket fashion boutique in Rome that he named "Papavero" ("Poppy").

He also used to work for Italian flag-carrier Alitalia.

To organise a major shipment from Colombia to Europe he once bought a Greek container ship in cash, the Mirage II. The shipment was ill-fated as it sank with all its lucrative cargo lost, the reports said.

Gratteri said that during Friday's arrest, Pannunzi had told the police he was ill but he said he hoped the alleged trafficker would not be granted house arrest in a hospital in Italy again.

"I hope that he is not given house arrest a third time because he could attempt a third escape.

"It's exhausting having to go around the world to find him every time he escapes," Gratteri said.

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