Court cases. Hitmen. Interpol. International drug traffickers sometimes need to get away from it all. Brazil has sought to cater to that elite clientele and their specific requirements: living in the lap of luxury with guaranteed privacy.
'Ndrangheta and Camorra kingpins from Italy, fugitives in the Balkans, even elderly train robbers from the United Kingdom have all fled to Brazil, hiding with varying degrees of success.
The most recent of these narco-fugitives to be found by authorities was Roccco Morabito, an Italian Mafia boss whose life after fleeing to Brazil could be a film as it involved a false identity, a lavish international lifestyle and a dramatic prison escape.
And many other runaways did not stop their illegal activities in their new home. Many continued to forge lucrative criminal partnerships through local contacts, either established before they ran to Brazil or once they were there.
Below, InSight Crime lists six of Brazil's most notorious "narco-fugitives."
As law enforcement closed in on him in 1995, he relocated to Brazil under the alias of Francisco Antonio Capeletto Souza, passing himself off as a Brazilian national involved in the soy business.
Morabito later used this alias to establish himself in Uruguay. Despite being one of Interpol’s most wanted international criminals, he lived a lavish lifestyle in the resort of Punta del Este until 2017, when he was arrested in a hotel lobby in the capital Montevideo.
While awaiting extradition in 2019, he escaped from Montevideo prison through an opening cut in the roof, along with three other international fugitives.
He was recaptured in May 2021 after two years on the run.
Nicola and Patrick Assisi
This ‘Ndrangheta father-son duo was considered among the world’s premier cocaine brokers when they were arrested in a luxurious São Paolo penthouse in 2019. Nicola had been sentenced to 14 years in prison back in 2007 but had dodged arrest in Portugal before he could be extradited to Italy.
By 2013, the pair was based out of Brazil, from where they continued running the ‘Ndrangheta cocaine business together with their counterparts in the PCC. Court documents cited in Expresso show that they used Brazil as a home base from which to expanded their criminal network to include partners in Peru and Paraguay.
Kapetanovic, alias “Judo,” was a member of the clan headed by Serbian drug lord Darko Šarić. He was a key player in the transatlantic cocaine trade, working alongside the PCC to traffic drugs from Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia through Brazil and on to the European markets, according to Consultor Jurídico citing Brazilian officials.
Like other fugitive drug lords, Kapetanovic was able to masquerade as a legal businessman in Brazil, even marrying a Brazilian woman with whom he shared an import-export company, according to court documents.
Juan Carlos Ramírez Abadía
Until his capture, Abadia, alias “Chupeta,” was one of Colombia's most powerful drug traffickers, and a leading member of the Norte del Valle Cartel, which emerged as the dominant group after the breakup of the Cali Cartel. He boasted an extensive international criminal network and acted as one of the main cocaine suppliers to Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel.
After being indicted for shipping around 500 tons of cocaine to the United States in 2004, Globo reports that Abadia fled to Brazil on a sailboat via Venezuela. Over the next three years, he was involved in numerous money laundering schemes and underwent radical plastic surgery to conceal his identity.
The drug trafficker's lawyer told Globo that Abadia "opted for Brazil because he was advised by a friend who had already been hiding [there] that the conditions here were very good and that he could hide easily."
Abadia was captured in Sao Paolo in 2007 and extradited to the United States. In 2018, he testified in the US trial of Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín Guzmán, alias “El Chapo,” laying bare a criminal conspiracy that had pumped narcotics from Colombia, through Mexico, and into the United States for over two decades.
Recife was also the destination of choice for notorious mafia boss Pasquale Scotti, who had been on the run for over 30 years by the time he was arrested in 2015. He was wanted in relation to over two dozen murders during his time with Italy’s Camorra clan in the 1980s.
Despite this weighty charge list, Scotti managed to reinvent himself as a businessman under the false name of Francisco de Castro Visconti. The Guardian reported that he even started a new family who seemed unaware of his previous criminal life.
Officials told the media outlet that they had no reason to believe that Scotti was involved in criminal activities in Brazil. Still, the WSJ reports that the criminal's retirement ended when his fingerprints came up a match during the course of an Interpol investigation into suspicious activity by Italian nationals.
Ronnie Biggs is certainly a different type of fugitive from those who usually seek a safe haven in Brazil. He achieved quasi-legendary status in the United Kingdom after taking part in the Great Train Robbery, stealing 2.6 million pounds from the Glasgow–London Royal Mail Train in 1963. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 1964 but managed to escape, undergo plastic surgery in Paris, and flee to Brazil in 1969.
Globo reported that "Biggs found his paradise in the early 70s. As soon as he read a postcard from Botafogo beach that told him this was a country where Nazi war criminals fled, he jumped on the first plane to Rio de Janeiro."
During his Brazilian stay, British authorities arrested Biggs several times in the hopes of extraditing him to the United Kingdom. These efforts were rejected by Brazilian courts as he had fathered a Brazilian child.
In 1981, three former British soldiers knocked Biggs out with gas at a Rio restaurant and abducted him, absconding to Barbados with the hopes of extraditing him to the UK. Barbados' Supreme Court rejected the farcical attempt and Biggs was allowed to return to Brazil.
After living in exile for over 30 years, Biggs finally surrendered in 2001 in order to return to the UK and was imprisoned for eight years before being released due to ailing health. He died in 2013 at the age of 84.