NAPLES, Italy (Reuters) - A mafia boss considered one of Italy’s 30 most dangerous fugitives has been arrested in Naples, police said on Saturday.
Edoardo Contini, 52, had been on the run for seven years. He was arrested late on Friday in a villa on the outskirts of the southern Italian city, home to the Camorra crime syndicate which thrives on drug trafficking and extortion.
Franco Roberti, the top anti-mafia prosecutor in Naples, described Contini as “the Camorra’s top criminal mind”.
“Edoardo Contini was perhaps the most dangerous boss in Naples,” Interior Minister Giuliano Amato said in a statement, adding that police had been on his trail for more than a year.
The arrest followed a series of high-profile sweeps against the Sicilian Mafia, including last month’s arrest of “boss of bosses” Salvatore Lo Piccolo after nearly a quarter of a century on the run.
In 2005, Contini was sentenced in absentia to 20 years in jail for mob association and extortion. He has also been accused of murder, drug trafficking and money laundering.
“Over the years, he built an economic empire that he continued to run even as a fugitive,” police said.
Investigators said large quantities of underwear and socks had been found in the villa were Contini was hiding, suggesting he used to throw away his dirty laundry rather than having it washed, for fear of being caught.
In 2006, Bernardo Provenzano, then the undisputed chief of the Sicilian Mafia, was arrested after police followed a package of clean laundry sent by his wife.
Prosecutors said Contini appeared to be very concerned about his meals, personally ordering his menu every week to a woman who assisted him while he was on the run.
In the villa, police also found scraps of paper known as “pizzini”, which mafia bosses use to send coded messages to lieutenants.
Contini had been arrested twice, in 1990 and 2000, but was released on both occasions because the deadline for keeping him in custody while the investigation was still ongoing expired, a common event in Italy’s slow justice system.
Writing by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Janet Lawrence