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Saturday, 30 December, 2000, 08:00 GMT
Costa del Crime no more?
Costa del Sol
The Costa del Sol is no safe haven for mafiosi now
By Flora Botsford in Madrid

Many of Italy's most wanted men are known to live on Spain's Costa del Sol, or the Costa del Crime, as it is affectionately called.

Their identities and whereabouts are known to the Spanish police - yet they are still hunted by the Italian courts.

A fundamental difference in the legal approach to these "mafiosi" has been holding up proceedings between the two countries.

Italy is prepared to try and convict mafia suspects in absentia, while Spain's Constitutional Court has ruled that, if a defendant is not present, such trials are not valid and therefore he or she cannot be extradited.

But a recent agreement between the two governments is going to make it easier to bring mafia suspects to trial in Italy - though only those who have not already been convicted in their absence.

No hiding place

Italy and Spain have decided to do away with lengthy extradition proceedings in favour of instant transfers, when a suspect is found to be living in the other country.

The arrangements have been likened by the Spanish justice minister to the exchange of prisoners between two provinces - and a step in the direction of a common European legal policy.

It is clear that what has, up until now, been considered the mafia's safest safe haven is changing fast.

Eight hundred orders of detention requested by Italian prosecutors, which were previously blocked by the Spanish authorities, have been re-issued, and many of the mafia's most notorious gangsters may soon find themselves in court in their own country.

Among those arrested recently were Enrico Ruggiero and Pasquale Mazarella, both wanted on charges of drug trafficking.

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See also:

14 Dec 00 | Europe
Mafia 'built' conference centre
12 Dec 00 | Europe
UN tackles organised crime
14 Nov 00 | Europe
Mafia 'gripping Italian economy'
15 Jun 00 | Europe
Europe's drug gangs
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