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Fugitive Mobster Seized in Spain

May 24, 1998

ROME (AP) _ A fugitive Italian mob boss in a wheelchair was recaptured Sunday in a village in southern Spain after an escape that embarrassed the Italian government.

The capture of 63-year-old Pasquale Cuntrera was a ``point of honor″ for Italian law enforcement, which has gone through ``moments of great bitterness″ recently, Italian Interior Minister Giorgio Napolitano said.

Cuntrera fled Italy just days before an appeals court upheld his conviction and 21-year sentence for running an international drug ring. He had been free pending the verdict.

Cuntrera was recognized by officers from Italy’s Carabinieri paramilitary police and arrested in the resort of Fuengirola on Spain’s southern coast, Col. Paolo Ganzer of the Carabinieri force told Italian state television.

He said the Italian officers had been deployed in places ``where he could be possibly hiding.″

Cuntrera’s flight came soon after the escape of another high-profile criminal, Licio Gelli, a 79-year-old financier convicted in the fraudulent 1982 bankruptcy of what was then Italy’s biggest private bank.

Gelli also fled while free pending appeal. He once headed the shadowy Masonic Lodge P2, an extreme-right group banned for plotting against the state.

When Cuntrera was extradited to Italy from Venezuela in 1992, authorities said he ran a huge drug smuggling and money-laundering operation.

Italy’s high court on Friday upheld the conviction, but by then he was long gone.

His escape prompted Justice Minister Giovanni Maria Flick to offer his resignation, but Prime Minister Romano Prodi refused to accept it.

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