Cops catch mafia boss who hid in bunker for over a year
An alleged leader of Italy's feared 'Ndrangheta mafia has been arrested after he was found hiding in an elaborate underground bunker accessible only via a remote-controlled trap door.
Armed carabinieri found Francesco Pesce, one of the country's most wanted fugitives, living a comfortable existence in the air-conditioned bunker, which had a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen.
It was concealed beneath a junkyard near the town of Rosarno, in Calabria, the "toe" of the Italian boot.
The 31-year-old suspect, nicknamed in the local Calabrian dialect "Ciccio the Fat Head", is believed to have been living in the bunker since May last year, when he went on the run after police launched an offensive against the 'Ndrangheta.
The 120sq ft bunker had two televisions, internet access and a sophisticated video surveillance system of 16 closed-circuit cameras.
Pesce spared himself few comforts -- the kitchen was packed with bottles of champagne and expensive wines as well as locally produced goats' cheese, salami and prosciutto.
The hideout was entered through a 3ft-high concealed trapdoor next to a chicken coop.
Antonio Pronesti (44), who owns the junkyard, was also arrested and is expected to be charged with helping to conceal Pesce.
"I've become famous," Pesce said as he was marched by officers down the steps of a police station before being remanded in custody.
He is accused of drug dealing, money laundering, criminal association and other charges.
During the raid, he tried to burn papers and encoded notes but police managed to seize the documents and were analysing them for leads to criminals.
He was arrested in the early hours of Wednesday but details of his hideout were only released by police yesterday.
Anti-mafia officers suspected the existence of the bunker after intercepting telephone calls between gang members and following their vehicles.
They used a bulldozer to search for the hideout. The sound of the machine -- and the apparent fear of being buried alive -- convinced Pesce to give himself up.
Roberto Maroni, the interior minister, said: "It's a severe blow to the 'Ndrangheta and a success of the highest level."
Giuseppe Pignatone, the chief prosecutor in the nearby city of Reggio Calabria, said that, despite being forced to live underground, Pesce remained "the active head of the clan".
Piero Grasso, Italy's chief anti-mafia prosecutor, warned that Italy's four mafia organisations -- the 'Ndrangheta, Cosa Nostra in Sicily, the Camorra of Campania and the lesser-known Sacra Corona Unita in Puglia -- were profiting from the economic crisis in Europe.
"In times of acute crisis, like now, the influence of dirty money in the economy is even greater," he said.
"Whoever has liquidity has great power in the market because they can buy up businesses."
Pesce is not the first alleged mafia chief to have tried to evade the law by living in a bunker.
In 2009, police arrested a mafia boss who lived in an underground bunker equipped with an unusual means of escape: a skateboard upon which he intended to propel himself, on his stomach, down a 200-yard secret tunnel. (© Daily Telegraph, London)