Fugitive 'Ndrangheta mobster is arrested in Portuguese clinic

Fugitive ‘Ndrangheta mobster is arrested in Portuguese clinic where he was being treated for Covid-19 – a week after another clan member was caught after his YouTube cooking videos gave him away

  • Italy’s interior minister described Francesco Pelle as one of the country’s most dangerous men
  • He had been on the run since 2019 and was arrested at the Sao Jose hospital in Lisbon on Monday
  • Pelle was a member of the ‘Ndrangheta, a notorious organised crime gang
  • Last Monday, another fugitive ‘Ndrangheta member was arrested overseas
  • Marc Feren Claude Biarton had been on the run since 2014 over an arrest for cocaine trafficking
  • He was caught in the Dominican Republic after his distinctive tattoos were spotted in videos on an online cooking channel he had set up with his wife 

A fugitive Italian mobster has been arrested in Portugal at a clinic where he was reportedly being treated for Covid-19.

Francesco Pelle was convicted in his homeland of ordering the revenge killing of a rival mafioso’s wife. 

Italian interior minister Luciana Lamorgese described him as one of Italy’s most dangerous fugitives in a statement on Monday.

She gave no further details except to say that Italian paramilitary police and anti-Mafia prosecutors had been on his trail.

Pelle, 43, was a noted figure in one of the Calabria-based ‘Ndrangheta’s most notorious organised crime clans.

His arrest comes just over a week after another ‘Ndrangheta member was arrested in the Dominican Republic after his distinctive tattoos were spotted in a YouTube cooking video.

A fugitive Italian mobster has been arrested in Portugal at a clinic where he was reportedly being treated for Covid-19. Francesco Pelle (pictured) was convicted in his homeland of ordering the revenge killing of a rival mafioso’s wife [File photo]

Italian daily Corriere della Serra reported that Pelle was arrested in a Lisbon hospital where he was being treated for Covid-19. The hospital was subsequently identified as the Sao Jose Hospital (pictured) [File photo]

Italian daily Corriere della Serra reported that Pelle was arrested in a Lisbon hospital where he was being treated for Covid-19.

The hospital was subsequently identified as the Sao Jose Hospital.         

Corriere della Serra said Pelle had vanished from Milan in 2019, just before Italy’s top criminal court upheld his conviction for ordering the murder of Maria Strangio at her home in Calabria on Christmas Day 2006.

The murder was part of a long history of bloodshed between the Pelle-Vottari clan and the rival Nirta-Strangio gang in the ‘Ndrangheta stronghold town of San Luca. 

Pelle had been shot in the back and wounded in the feud a few days earlier and the killing of Ms Strangio was believed to have been ordered in retaliation.

In revenge for her murder, six suspected members or associated of the Pelle-Vottari clan were gunned down outside an Italian restaurant in Duisberg, Germany, in 2007.

Pelle vanished from Milan in 2019, just before Italy’s top criminal court upheld his conviction for ordering the murder of Maria Strangio at her home in Calabria on Christmas Day 2006. In revenge for her murder, six suspected members or associated of the Pelle-Vottari clan were gunned down outside an Italian restaurant in Duisberg, Germany, in 2007. Pictured: The crime scene in Duisberg, Germany in 2007 [File photo]

The sensational attack made plain to authorities in Europe what Italian investigators had been saying for years: that the ‘Ndrangheta, awash in cocaine money, had extended its reach throughout much of the continent as it gobbled up businesses to help launder billions in drug profits. Pictured: Bodies are loaded into a hearse following an attack outside an Italian restaurant in Duisberg, Germany in 2007 [File photo]

The sensational attack made plain to authorities in Europe what Italian investigators had been saying for years: that the ‘Ndrangheta, awash in cocaine money, had extended its reach throughout much of the continent as it gobbled up businesses to help launder billions in drug profits.  

Interior minister Lamorgese praised international police cooperation behind Monday’s arrest.

International police cooperation also helped secure the arrest of Marc Feren Claude Biart in the Dominican Republic on March 29.  

The 53-year-old had been on the run since 2014, when Italian prosecutors ordered his arrest for trafficking cocaine in the Netherlands on behalf of the Cacciola clan of the ‘Ndrangheta.

Mafia fugitive was caught in the Caribbean after appearing on YouTube cooking videos where he showed off his distinctive tattoos. Pictured (left) during his arrest

Police said Biart had been living a quiet life in Boca Chica, with the local Italian expat community considering him a ‘foreigner’. 

Detectives spotted him on a YouTube channel where he showed off his Italian cooking skills with his wife. 

The videos never showed his face, but the tattoos on his body gave him away, police said.  

He was returned to Milan on Monday after being seized as part of Operation Mauser to crack down on the gang’s global drug trafficking ring.

Detectives from Interpol helped scour social media sites for any trace of Biart before they found him on YouTube.  

Biart, 53, led a quiet life in Boca Chica, in the Dominican Republic, with the local Italian expat community considering him a ‘foreigner’ 

Biart was returned to Milan on Monday after being seized as part of Operation Mauser to crack down on the gang’s global drug trafficking ring

Detectives from Interpol helped scour social media sites for any trace of Biart before they found him on YouTube

How the ‘Ndrangheta cocaine crime network extends around the world

In December 2019 an operation targeted the ‘Ndrangheta families based in the southern Italian city of Locri in the Calabria region – the rural, mountainous and under-developed ‘toe’ of Italy’s boot and the heartland of the worldwide crime group. 

As a result of the swoop, Italian police arrested 334 people, including a police colonel and a former MP from Silvio Berlusconi’s party. 

Despite intense police attention and frequent arrests, the ‘Ndrangheta – which derives its meaning from the Greek word for ‘heroism’ – has continued to extend its reach. 

Notoriously ruthless, the ‘Ndrangheta has surpassed Sicily’s Cosa Nostra and the Naples-based Camorra to operate on all continents thanks to the wealth it has amassed as the principal importer and wholesaler of cocaine produced in Latin America and smuggled into Europe via north Africa and southern Italy.

That trade is worth billions and previous police operations have indicated that the ‘Ndrangheta has well-established links with Colombian producer cartels, Mexican crime gangs and mafia families in New York and other parts of North America.


In 2016, a suspected ‘Ndrangheta boss, Ernesto Fazzalari (left), was arrested after two decades on the run, fleeing a life sentence for murder. A year later, another suspected boss of the crime clan, Santo Vottari (right), was detained in Calabria having been on the run for a decade

The organisation’s tight clan-based structure has made it hard to penetrate but police have made some in roads in recent years. 

In 2015, 163 people were arrested in a major crackdown on the notorious mafia gang, which by that time had become the most powerful crime organisation in the country.

In another sting that year, police snatched assets worth £1.4billion from the ‘Ndrangheta, which included more than 1,500 betting shops, 82 online gambling sites and almost 60 companies.  

In 2016, one of Italy’s most wanted mafia bosses Ernesto Fazzalari was arrested after two decades on the run, fleeing a life sentence for murder. 

The ‘Ndrangheta member was captured in an apartment in a remote part of the southern region of Calabria.

On the run since 1996, he was convicted in absentia in 1999 of mafia association, kidnapping, illegal possession of weapons and a double homicide linked to a bloody 1989-91 feud which left 32 people dead in his home town of Taurianova.

His arrest was hailed by the government as a significant victory for the state in its battle against the powerful mafia group.

In 2018, another suspected boss of the crime clan, Santo Vottari, was detained in Calabria having been on the run for a decade.

He was arrested hiding behind a trap door of a bunker having gone to ground over a 2007 massacre in Germany.  

Vottari was convicted in absentia in 2009 of being one of the heads of an ‘Ndrangheta clan whose feud with local rivals culminated in the Duisburg killings.

He was given a prison term of 10 years and eight months, two years after he went on the run.

Vottari was one of 31 people sentenced to prison terms in 2009 in connection with the Duisburg killings, which happened after a vendetta between two clans based in the same village, San Luca, spiralled out of control.

The feud between the Nirta-Strangio and Pelle-Vottari clans reportedly began with an egg-throwing prank in 1991. 

Reprisals escalated after the killing, on Christmas Day, 2006, of Maria Strangio, the wife of clan leader Giovanni Nirta.

The feud was blamed for at least 16 deaths in total, with the killings in Germany bringing it to international attention.

Giovanni Strangio was convicted in 2011 of being the mastermind and one of the authors of the Duisburg killings.

He was sentenced to life in prison. Seven others were given life sentences linked to the feud at the same trial.

Notoriously ruthless, the ‘Ndrangheta has surpassed Sicily’s Cosa Nostra and the Naples-based Camorra in influence thanks to its control of Europe’s cocaine trade.

The organisation is made up of numerous village and family-based clans based in the rural, mountainous and under-developed ‘toe’ of Italy’s boot.

The name ‘Ndrangheta comes from the Greek for courage or loyalty and the organisation’s secretive culture and brutal enforcement of codes of silence have made it very difficult to penetrate.

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