Bungling judge accidentally releases Mafia suspect police hunted for two years

A Spanish judge has accidentally released a fugitive Mafia suspect police had been hunting for two years.

The detained man, identified as Vittorio Raso, is a high ranking member of the notorious criminal organisation Ndrangheta, an Italian Mafia crime syndicate and criminal empire based in the southern Italian region of Calabria, dating back to the 19th century.

According to a Spanish police report, authorities have been investigating Raso for two years after intel that the criminal had escaped Italy to hide in Spain.

A European arrest warrant was issued by Italian authorities for the crimes of belonging to a criminal organisation, extortion and drug trafficking with police confirming his capture on October 12.

But now a court spokesman has said the judge thought Mr Raso had been charged only with extortion, the New York Times reports.

“The information that he had at the time didn’t include any mention of his role in the ’Ndrangheta,” the court spokesman said.

A spokeswoman for Spain’s national police on Tuesday did not say whether the Spanish police had provided the judge with sufficient information about the charges against the suspect.

“Once we put somebody at the disposal of the judiciary, it is no longer for us to handle,” she said.

Both the police spokeswoman and the court spokesman insisted their names be withheld, as is common practice for official spokespeople in Spain.

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This investigation began in October 2018 when police learned that the wanted criminal was hiding out in Southern Spain, after which he fled to Barcelona.

Last July, the Spanish and Italian police found evidence that the fugitive had plans to leave by boat from Barcelona to Brazil and decided to intensify their efforts.

They also reportedly found out that Raso was expecting a truck to bring him false documentation and a large amount of cash.

Surveillance was activated in different neighbourhoods of the city and authorities were able to establish a meeting point and two addresses linked to the fugitive.

According to the police report, the quick location of the fugitive was thanks to the European Network of Fugitive Active Search Teams (ENFAST) and the rapid communication between the Italian authorities and the Spanish police officers participating in the investigation.

At the time of his arrest, he was carrying a false Italian identity card and will also be charged for document falsification.

On October 13, he appeared by videoconference before Judge Abascal, who is based in Madrid.

The court spokesman confirmed that the judge had interviewed Mr Raso and decided that he should be released, pending trial on the extortion charge.

To reduce the flight risk, the judge ordered that Mr Raso hand over his passport and report weekly to the police.

The Spanish court has reissued an arrest warrant for Mr Raso, but it was not immediately known whether he was still in Spain or had fled the country.

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