Argentine police capture one in 13-day manhunt for fugitive killers

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 09, 2016 11:06 AM

By Jorge Otaola and Richard Lough

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentine police on Saturday captured a fugitive prisoner convicted of drug-related killings and a manhunt entered a 13th day for two others, a security source said.

The manhunt has gripped Argentines and also shone a light on Argentina's growing role as a transit point for narco gangs smuggling South American drugs to the United States and Europe.

In an operation carried live at times by television channels, hundreds of security agents, including police commandos and sharpshooters, hunted down the men in the farming province of Santa Fe, north of the capital Buenos Aires.

Victor Schialli and brothers Martin and Cristian Lanatta, have been on the run since escaping from a maximum security jail on Dec. 27.

"Martin Lanatta has been detained," said the security source, withholding his name because he was unauthorized to speak publicly before an official statement from the Interior Ministry.

State news agency Telam reported Martin Lanatta was nabbed outside the town of Cayasta, 570 km (354 miles) north of the capital, after the vehicle the three were traveling in flipped over. The other two men escaped on foot, Telam said.

The trio were convicted over the 2008 killing of three businessmen in the pharmaceutical industry allegedly linked to an ephedrine trafficking gang in a high-profile case dubbed "The triple murder". Ephedrine is used for the production of methamphetamine.

A blame game over the prison break erupted between the country's new leader, Mauricio Macri, and officials in the government of the former president, Cristina Fernandez.

"Drug-trafficking has grown in the last decade like never before in our country because of the inaction or complicity of the last government," Macri said this week, vowing to take on the traffickers.

The manhunt intensified on Thursday after the fugitives opened fire on a group of police officers who stopped their vehicle. Two agents were wounded in the shoot out.

TV footage showed police helicopters scouring swathes of corn fields and commandos snaking through wooded copses as federal and provincial police closed the dragnet on the fugitives.

(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)