Italy captures mafia fugitive hiding in secret room in own home

October 6, 2016 11:52 AM EDT

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ROME (Reuters) - Italian police said on Wednesday they had captured a fugitive Calabrian mafia boss hiding in a secret room in his own home five years after he escaped the clutches of the law during a hospital visit.

The 54-year-old boss, Antonio Pelle, was on the Interior Ministry's list of the country's most dangerous fugitives. He faces a 20-year sentence for drug and arms smuggling, and for being a member of a mafia clan.

A police video of the arrest showed Pelle's head peak out from the top of a large wardrobe in his home in Benestare, a small town on the toe of Italy's geographical boot. As he talks to police, he climbs down and is handcuffed.

"Fifty of us searched the two-storey villa where Pelle had always lived (prior to becoming a fugitive), but it took a very attentive eye to discover his hiding place," police commander Francesco Ratta said in comments broadcast on TV.

Pelle had been silently lying in a niche built behind the wardrobe during the police search until he was discovered, police said. The room contained a mattress, a fan, some bottles of water and cash, the video showed.

First arrested and jailed in 2008, Pelle slipped away from captivity three years later when he was sent to hospital for urgent medical treatment.

Prosecutors said he was the acting head of the Pelle-Vottari crime family, of which six members were murdered in Duisburg, Germany, in 2007 as part of an ongoing feud with a rival clan from the Calabrian town of San Luca.

Over the past two decades the Calabrian mafia, known as the 'Ndrangheta, has become Italy's most powerful and wealthy organized crime group thanks to its role as one of Europe's biggest importers of South American cocaine, investigators say.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; editing by Mark Heinrich)



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