HomeNewsBriefPrison Break of Italian Mafia Boss Threatens Uruguay’s Reputation
BRIEF

Prison Break of Italian Mafia Boss Threatens Uruguay’s Reputation

PRISONS / 1 JUL 2019 BY MARÍA PAULA CHAPARRO EN

The high-profile prison break of Italian mafia boss Rocco Morabito from a prison in Montevideo has further called into doubt Uruguay's reputation as one of the continent's safest and least corrupt nations.  

On the night of June 23, “the Cocaine King of Milan” managed to escape from a prison in Uruguay, where he had been awaiting his extradition to Italy for almost two years. Morabito was facing a prison sentence of over 30 years in Italy.  

Morabito is a member of 'Ndranghetaa powerful Italian mafia that has been making advances in Latin America since the 90s. The 'Ndrangheta mafia is accused of controlling up to 80 percent of the cocaine trade in Europe. Morabito was responsible for the transportation of drug shipments to Italy from South America, as well as internal transportation and distribution in Milan.  

 SEE ALSO: Fugitive Italian Crime Boss Captured in Uruguay 

The mafia boss escapedalong with three other incarcerated foreignersby opening a hole that gave them access to the roof and subsequently the outside of the prison 

Howeverthe escape was not recorded by any of the prison’s cameras, as these had been removed two days prior.

The breakout also failed to be thwarted despite intelligence reports, which warned as of last year that Morabito was offering $80,000 to officers who would help him to escape. Mary González, director of the former Central Prison, also failed to warn of the need to transfer Morabito despite being told of the absence of adequate security conditions. 

The Italian government did not wait to respond. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, spoke out against the escape, calling it "serious and disconcerting," especially as preliminary investigations have stated it would have been impossible for Morabito to have escaped without complicity of prison officials. 

For now, the scandal has led to the resignation of Uruguay's director of prisons, Alberto Gadea, and administrative procedures begun against some of the prison officials involved.

One of the men who broke out with Morabito, Argentine national Leonardo Abel Sinopoli Azcoaga, was re-arrested hundreds of kilometers away trying to secure a ride into Brazil.

InSight Crime Analysis

Morabito’s escape from prison highlights aspects in which Uruguay is slipping from its distinctive position and reputation as a nation free of the insecurity that currently characterizes Latin America.  

On the one hand, the caliber of the main character is undeniable. Morabito was one of the five most wanted criminals in Italy and ten most wanted in the world. On the other hand, he was seemingly close to being extradited. This would have marked a victory against the 'Ndrangheta mafia that has now through the fingers of the Italian government.  

The prison’s complicity is not surprising in the region. Over the last few years, internal help has been fundamental to the success of prison breaks in MexicoArgentina and even Panama. However, prison corruption is new to Uruguay, which was recently ranked as the least corrupt in Latin America.  

SEE ALSO: Uruguay News and Profile

Corruption would not be the only problem in Uruguayan prisons. A 2018 report by the United Nations, exposed the need to investigate cases of torture and abuse of prisoners.  

Security concerns in Uruguay have also been felt outside of prisons. Uruguay’s homicide rate increased by 45 percent in 2018, placing it well above Chile, Paraguay, Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia. Authorities attributed 47 percent of cases to clashes between criminal groups and violence linked to drug trafficking.  

This is the context in which Morabito is now a fugitive. His escape leaves several unanswered questions and leaves Uruguay’s reputation in the balance.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

ARGENTINA / 3 NOV 2016

A report has mapped how marijuana is trafficked through Paraguay and Argentina via thousands of kilometers of river, providing an…

DRUG POLICY / 1 AUG 2013

After passing a stern test in the lower house of congress, Uruguay's historic marijuana legalization bill will soon become…

DRUG POLICY / 11 DEC 2013

After months of delay, Uruguay is finally on the verge of becoming the first country to regulate every aspect of…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Apure Investigation Makes Headlines

22 OCT 2021

InSight Crime’s investigation into the battle for the Venezuelan border state of Apure resonated in both Colombian and Venezuelan media. A dozen outlets picked up the report, including Venezuela’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.