ORGANIZED CRIME

Italian mafia boss mistakenly released after his arrest in Barcelona

Spain’s High Court says it was not informed in time about Vittorio Raso’s ties to organized crime, and has issued a new warrant

Vittorio Raso on the day of his arrest in Barcelona.
Vittorio Raso on the day of his arrest in Barcelona.

Vittorio Raso, an Italian mafia boss whom the Spanish police had been after for two years, has disappeared following his arrest in Barcelona and subsequent release by a court.

The 41-year-old Raso, who is believed to be one of the leaders of the 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate from the Italian region of Calabria, was let go after making statements via video link to a judge at Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional.

The courthouse said that at the time of this initial hearing, it was believed that the suspect was only wanted on extortion charges, and that it was only two hours after his release that it emerged that Raso was also a mafia boss. The judge in charge of the case has issued a new arrest warrant.

Police sources note that the court received an extensive police report explaining who Raso was, together with a copy of a European arrest warrant issued by Italy. This country later sent additional information on the suspect’s ties to organized crime, but by then Raso had already been released from a holding cell in Barcelona.

Everyone is looking for him. The homes where he was known to have stayed have been searched, but there is no trace of him
Anonymous police source

Information about the arrest was widely disseminated by the National Police’s press department on October 12. In a media release, the police underscored that Raso is “a leading member of the 'Ndrangheta.” The suspect was also defined as a vangelo, “a leading figure of the Calabrian organization whose criminal activity mainly takes place through drug and weapons trafficking.”

The next day, Raso appeared via video link before Judge Alejandro Abascal of the High Court. At the time, the European arrest warrant only mentioned the extortion allegations, and that is the reason why he was charged and released, said a spokesperson for Spain’s central criminal court.

Police sources insist that they included a report over three pages long detailing sought prison terms of 15 and 20 years for extortion and an additional 20 years for drug trafficking against Raso, who was described in the report as a member of the 'Ndrangheta.

Two hours after his release, the Italian police sent additional information through Sirene, an information exchange system for EU member states, and included a second document indicating that Raso was also wanted for drug trafficking in his role as one of the leaders of the 'Ndrangheta.

The judge issued a new arrest warrant, but by then Raso had walked out of his holding cell inside the City of Justice in Barcelona. “Everyone is looking for him. The homes where he was known to have stayed have been searched, but there is no trace of him,” lamented one police source.

Raso was living in a luxury estate in Barcelona with views of the sea. In July of this year, police learned that he was planning to take a boat to Brazil using a fake identity.

The investigation against him began in October 2018 as a joint case between the Spanish and Italian police. He was initially located in Málaga, on Spain’s Costa del Sol, and was later found to be living in Barcelona. At the time of his arrest, he was carrying a fake ID.

He is wanted on two counts of extortion: one took place between 2012 and 2016, and the other in June 2016, according to police sources. The victims had taken out large loans from the criminal group (between €40,000 and €50,000) and were being asked to pay a monthly interest of 10%. Payments were allegedly enforced by Raso through violent means. He is also accused of trafficking hashish between Italy and Spain. Following the Barcelona arrest, the Italian police raided the homes of Raso associates in Torino and found €360,000, over 13 kilograms of drugs and various weapons.

The 'Ndrangheta is Italy’s most powerful mafia and the one with the largest amount of international “branches,” according to figures released by the Catanzaro Prosecutor’s Office, in the capital of Calabria.

English version by Susana Urra.

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