Colombia deports Calabrian mafia boss Pannunzi to Italy

Roberto Pannunzi arriving in Rome Pannunzi is expected to serve out more than 16 years of his sentence in Italy

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Italian police have arrested mafia boss Roberto Pannunzi after he was deported back to Italy from Colombia.

He was detained in a shopping centre in Bogota on Friday in an joint operation carried out by the Colombian authorities and US anti-drug officials.

Pannunzi is alleged to be responsible for importing up to two tonnes of cocaine into Europe every month.

He is the alleged leader of the 'Ndrangheta crime network based in the southern Italian region of Calabria.

The Italian was detained on Friday with the help of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the Colombian defence ministry said in a statement.

"When he was captured, Pannunzi identified himself with a fake Venezuelan identification card bearing the name Silvano Martino," Colombia's defence ministry said in a Twitter post.

Less than 24 hours later, he was put on a plane from Bogota.

Pannunzi was arrested by Italian police upon his arrival at Rome's Fiumicino airport on Saturday evening.

'Not a mafioso'

Roberto Pannunzi, 65, is said to have organised huge shipments of cocaine from South America to Europe.

He collected the money from different criminal organisations and smuggled large scale, profitable drug smuggling operations.

"He is not a mafioso, not a killer, he is a broker," Roberto Saviano, an Italian investigative journalist told the AFP news agency.

Roberto Pannunzi, 65, was first detained in Colombia in 1994 and extradited to Italy but was released when his detention order expired.

He was re-arrested in 2004 and later convicted. But he staged an dramatic escape from a private hospital in Rome in 2010, where he was being treated for heart disease.

Italian authorities have described the 'Ndrangheta as the country's most dangerous and wealthiest crime syndicate, overtaking the Sicilian Mafia.

"He is the biggest cocaine importer in the world," said Nicola Gratteri, deputy chief prosecutor in the Reggio Calabria province.

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