Italian Mafia Fugitive Arrested in Brazil
After 31 years of freedom, one of Italy’s most feared criminals has been arrested on a quiet street in Recife. In a cooperative effort involving Interpol and Brazil’s federal police, Pasquale Scotti was detained by police while taking his children to school. Scotti was a leader of the Camorra mafia syndicate in Italy at one time, and he was convicted of 26 murders.
Police believe his Brazilian family were unaware of his identity, which was exposed by Interpol through fingerprint examination. Scotti had been living under the false name Francisco de Castro Visconti. Reinventing himself as a businessman, he had Brazilian identity papers, was registered as a voter, and partly owned a nightclub and food import business.
Photographs of the 56-year-old suspect in handcuffs show a man very different from the figure seen on Italian wanted posters. The gangster in his twenties with thick hair and dark bushy eyebrows is now a balding middle-aged man with a beard, glasses, and a slight paunch.
Pasquale Scotti was an Italian criminal and boss of a Mafia organization operating in Naples and Campania, Italy. He worked for the Nuova Camorra Organizzata (NCO), which was headed by Raffaele Cutolo. Scotti was described as a ruthless personality and one of the most able of the leaders of NCO, together with Vincenzo Casillo. Scotti’s role was to administer the assets of the NCO, investing their illegal profits in Italy and abroad.
In April 1981, Scotti and Casillo mediated between the regional leaders of the Christian Democrat party (Italian:Democrazia Cristiana, DC), the military secret service, and the Red Brigade Italian terrorists to obtain the successful release of the politician Ciro Cirillo, who had been kidnapped by the Red Brigades.
Casillo was later killed by a bomb under his car in January 1983, possibly to cover the secret negotiations by DC politicians to free Cirillo because the negotiations with the Red Brigades were in violation of the official policy of the Italian government not to negotiate with terrorists. After Casillo’s death, Scotti was probably responsible for killing Casillo’s mistress because she knew too much about the dealings of her boyfriend.
After the arrest of NCO boss Cutolo, Scotti tried to rearrange the NCO organization to his advantage. Scotti was arrested on December 17, 1983, in Caivano, Italy, where he controlled the illegal gambling, drug trafficking, and smuggling of cigarettes and guns. His arrest involved a shoot-out with the police in which Scotti was injured. While in police custody, he decided to become an informer and cooperate with the authorities. On Christmas Eve of 1984, he escaped the police by jumping from the second floor of the hospital of Caserta, where he had been hospitalized for a hand wound. For the next thirty years, Scotti remained invisible.
Since 1985, Scotti had been on the “most wanted list” of the Italian Ministry for murder. On January 17, 1990, an international arrest warrant was issued for him. In 2005, he received a life sentence “in absentia” from Italian authorities for a series of 26 murders in 1982-83 during a mafia war between the NCO and the Nuova Famiglia crime families.
Scotti is said to have arrived in Brazil in 1986. The following year he moved to Recife, a city on the northeast coast. Recife, with a population of 1.5 million, is the capital of the state of Pernambuco but is less in the international spotlight than São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. In 1995, he married a Brazilian woman with whom he has two children. They live in the city’s Sancho district.
The arrest by four officers was carried out with the minimum of trouble. “He was approached in the morning when he left home, and the arrest intent was communicated to him. The officers allowed him to take his kids to school first, followed him, and then arrested him. There was no resistance; it was very discreet. He told us in a statement that his family was not aware of anything,” said Giovani Santoro, the communications officer of the Pernambuco federal police force.
Police said they had no reason to believe Scotti was involved in criminal activity in Brazil. “He has a clean slate here,” a spokesman said. Italian law enforcement officials will now begin extradition proceedings. His former boss, Raffaele Cutolo, is still in prison in Italy, serving multiple life sentences for murder, according to Federico Varese, a mafia expert and criminologist at Oxford University.
Scotti’s disappearance had been the subject of intense speculation, with rumors circulating for years that he was either dead or working for the ‘Ndrangheta mafia, which is based in Calabria. Roberto Saviano, the journalist who exposed NCO crimes in his bestselling book, Gomorrah: Italy’s Other Mafia, and who has faced numerous death threats, told The Guardian newspaper in an email: “We all grew up with the myth of Pasquale Scotti.”
Renato Natale, the anti-mafia mayor of Casal di Principe, which was once considered prime Camorra territory, told The Guardian: “I thought he had completely disappeared from circulation, so this news surprised me – pleasantly. Justice runs its course and in the end they catch you. In the early 1980s, Scotti was a big fish, but after that, when he became a fugitive, no one heard of him anymore.”
Scotti may have gone to Brazil because it was a country that was reluctant to approve extradition requests from Europe. In the 1980s, the UK train robber Ronnie Biggs lived in Rio despite being wanted by British police. However, extradition procedures have subsequently been eased, so it is likely Scotti will be returned to Italy to face justice in the near future.
[The research for this article comes from The Guardian, Reuters, and Wikipedia.]