Mafia link-man slips from police grasp

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The Independent Online
PASQUALE CUNTRERA, the link-man between the Sicilian Mafia and the drug cartels of Latin America, eluded police surveillance yesterday only 48 hours before Italy's supreme court was due to confirm his 21-year prison sentence for drug trafficking and money laundering, writes Anne Hanley in Rome.

Officers sent to serve an interim arrest warrant yesterday found no sign of the wheelchair-bound Cuntrera in his house on the coast near Rome.

Cuntrera walked free from a high-security prison on 6 May, when a court ruled on a technicality that there was no legal justification for extending the preventative detention of the man who ran one of the world's biggest drug trafficking operations. The supreme court, that ruling said, should have set an earlier date for confirming the mafioso's sentence.

Cuntrera's disappearance will increase pressure on Italy's justice and interior ministers, who risked having to step down two weeks ago when another convicted criminal, Licio Gelli, vanished shortly before he could be escorted to prison to serve eight years for fraudulent bankruptcy. Gelli, who plotted against the Italian state, is still at large.