After five years on the run, Mafia mobster is found at London newspaper kiosk

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The Independent Online

Of all the hiding places for a senior Mafia mobster, one would hardly have thought of a newspaper kiosk at Vauxhall train station in south London.

But, according to the police, that was where they found Francesco Tonicello, an armed robber who has been on the run for five years and who is suspected of having links to a notorious Mafia crime family.

The 35-year-old had managed to keep ahead of the Italian authorities, who sentenced him to nine years in jail in his absence, by donning a series of elaborate disguises. During the past five years he is said to have changed his appearance on numerous occasions, with different haircuts and hair colour, beard, moustache and glasses.

He adopted at least four different identities after moving to London, passing himself off as an ordinary Italian emigrant, doing various regular jobs. For some time he called himself "Gianluca Cappello" and lived in a flat in Vauxhall, a traffic-choked and distinctly unglamorous area. He previously lived in at least three other places in the capital.

But his London adventure came to an end last Wednesday when officers from the Metropolitan Police's extradition squad raided the home in Wandsworth Road, Vauxhall, that he shared with another Italian, after a surveillance operation.

When Tonicello was arrested, in the middle of the night, he tried to make out that he was not the person they were after.

Police said the mobster had been convicted of involvement in a string of armed robberies, but fled Italy before he could be detained. He has also been accused of links to a Mafia gang in Venice allegedly responsible for murder, drug running and extortion.

Originally from the island of Lido, near Venice, Tonicello became notorious in the 1990s for his involvement in a series of crimes including drugs, receiving stolen goods and fraud. As an accomplished forger, investigators believe he was connected to a local organised crime syndicate called Mala del Brenta, which has since been disbanded.

Several weeks ago, police in Venice arrested Tonicello's brother and one of his former friends in connection with an alleged heroin trafficking plot.

Tonicello's error was to reveal his identity and whereabouts in letters he sent to family in Italy via a trusted intermediary. The police obtained the information and tracked him down.

"He was arrested at the address in Vauxhall on Wednesday on an extradition warrant issued by Italian authorities," said a spokesman for Scotland Yard.

Tonicello was remanded in custody at Bow Street magistrates' court last Wednesday and is to appear at the same court via a video link from Brixton prison on Thursday.

A spokesman at the Italian embassy in London said they had been contacted by the Home Office about the case, but were still waiting for the full details to be sent by Italy's justice ministry.