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Alleged Cigarette Smuggler Seized

December 22, 2000

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) _ Authorities on Friday arrested an alleged Italian mob kingpin accused of directing a cigarette smuggling empire across southeastern Europe.

Francesco Prudentino, 52, was considered one of Italy’s most-wanted suspects and a leader of trafficking gangs stretching from Italy to Bulgaria. He was the subject of an international manhunt.

Authorities said he recently moved to Greece from the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, which is a gateway for many contraband cigarette rings. Prudentino was using a fake passport and was arrested as he was shopping in a supermarket in the northern port of Thessaloniki in a joint operation by Italian and Greek agents, police said.

In Rome, the head of the parliamentary anti-Mafia commission, Giuseppe Lumia, called the arrest ``a splendid result″ achieved in part thanks to a crackdown by Montenegrin authorities, under pressure from Italy, and the collaboration of Greek police.

Italian police allege Prudentino was linked to Mafia gangs in Naples and the Puglia region in southeastern Italy. Police said he is also thought to be involved in weapons smuggling and extortion rackets.

Greece has become a crossroads for cigarette smuggling.

According to police, Italian agents had been in Greece for the past six months looking for Prudentino. They initially thought he was living in the southern port town of Corinth.

On Thursday, police near Athens arrested six suspected smugglers and confiscated two truckloads of contraband cigarettes with an estimated market value of $3.75 million.

In August, an alleged Italian cigarette smuggler, Saverio Benvenuto, was killed by gunmen in a seaside town southeast of Athens. He had been living in Greece under a false name.

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