Venezuela to Deport Top Italian Mafia Suspect

A convicted European drug trafficker dubbed the "Mafia's foreign minister" will be deported to Italy after his capture in Caracas in a joint operation by Venezuelan and Italian police, authorities said Tuesday.

Salvatore Miceli was caught at a Caracas hotel on Saturday, Venezuelan police said. He will be deported to Italy "in the coming days," Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami told reporters.

Miceli was one of Europe's top five drug traffickers, said Capt. Antonello Parasiliti of the Carabinieri police in Trapani, who led the Italian police operation to arrest Miceli in Venezuela.

Parasiliti told The Associated Press by phone interview that Miceli worked as a middleman between Italy's and South America's organized crime groups, leading fellow mobsters to call him the "Mafia's foreign minister" and "the chicken that lays golden eggs."

Miceli had been under surveillance by Italian and Venezuelan police for three days before he was captured late Saturday, Italian police said. Italian police said two other Italian suspects were also detained. They have not been identified.

Venezuelan authorities say Miceli is suspected of trafficking cocaine, heroin and morphine.

Interpol's secretary-general, Ronald K. Noble, congratulated Italian and Venezuelan police in a statement Monday, saying Miceli's capture "will seriously undermine a close network of transnational organized crime groups."

Miceli, 63, was born in Salemi, a town in western Sicily, and followed in the footsteps of his grandfather - local Mafia boss Salvatore Zizzo, Parasiliti said.

In the 1970s, Miceli was allegedly involved in a series of ransom kidnappings that helped fund drug trafficking clans in nearby Trapani.

Miceli was arrested in the early 1990s on drug trafficking and Mafia charges, but was later freed while awaiting trial and went on the run after being convicted in 2001, Parasiliti said.

He said a 2003 probe uncovered Miceli's role as an intermediary between South American drug cartels, the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and Calabria's 'ndrangheta - leading authorities to issue another arrest warrant.

Venezuelan television on Monday showed police leading a handcuffed Miceli for forensic testing to demonstrate that he was not mistreated prior to deportation.

El Aissami said over the weekend that Miceli apparently tried to alter his features with plastic surgery, but Parasiliti dismissed that claim, saying the man looked very similar to photos taken 10 years ago, only older.

To avoid capture, Miceli ensured that people who came to meet him started out early in the morning - reaching him in the evening after changing clothes and taking elaborate routes to elude any followers, Parasiliti said.


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