Police in Italy yesterday arrested Marcello Pesce, head of the notorious ‘Ndrangheta organised crime gang.
The capture of the 52-year-old, who went by the nickname “the Dancer”, was described as a “beautiful” victory in the Italian government’s fight against mafia groups.
Pesce, the chief of an organised crime syndicate that controls the majority of the European cocaine market, was detained at a flat in his home town of Rosarno in Calabria. The Italian authorities had been searching for Pesce since 2010, when he was sentenced to a 15-year jail term after being found guilty in absentia of organised crime association.
Last year, a court in in Calabria issued a Europe-wide warrant for the arrest of Pesce, who the Italian authorities described as one of the most dangerous fugitives in the country. According to reports from Italian media, Pesce was a strategist for the ‘Ndrangheta, who earned his nickname on account of his ability to avoid capture.
Video footage of Pesce’s arrest released to the media by Italian police shows the mafia boss being detained unarmed and smirking in the bedroom of the home he was staying in. The video then shows him being led away in handcuffs to an unmarked police car waiting outside the property.
Prosecutor Gaetano Paci described Pesce as an intelligent man. He spoke French fluently, and was detained in a property containing books by Marcel Proust and Jean-Paul Sartre. His former associates accuse him of being a ruthless leader, and claim he ordered a number of gangland murders.
As news of his arrest broke, Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano took to Twitter to write: “Today is a beautiful day for Italy: Marcello Pesce, one of the most dangerous mafia figures still at large was brought to justice.”
As well as drugs, the ‘Ndrangheta clan – one of the most powerful and feared criminal organisations in the world – is also involved in the exploitation of migrant workers, forcing them to work in orange groves for slave wages. The group is also involved in a number of other illegal activities, including counterfeiting, fraud, people smuggling, loan sharking and racketeering. Numerous murders and bomb attacks have also been linked to the gang.
Pesce’s capture comes almost a month after the arrest of fellow ‘Ndrangheta boss Antonio Pelle, who was caught hiding in a secret room his home in Benestare, close to the city of Reggio Calabria. Police video of Pelle’s arrest showed him emerging from inside a large wardrobe.
After being jailed in 2008, Pelle had been on the run since escaping from custody three years later while being transferred to hospital for medical treatment.
“Fifty of us searched the two-storey villa where Pelle had always lived, but it took a very attentive eye to discover his hiding place,” police commander Francesco Ratta said after Pelle’s arrest.