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Argentina's president Mauricio Macri embarrassed by fugitive bungle

Published 10/01/2016

President Mauricio Macri was embarrassed by false claims that all three fugitives had been recaptured (AP)
President Mauricio Macri was embarrassed by false claims that all three fugitives had been recaptured (AP)

Two notorious convicts are still on the run in Argentina, police admitted just hours after the authorities celebrated capturing them.

It is an embarrassment for President Mauricio Macri's new administration, Argentina's senior police chief said only one of three fugitives was in custody, not all of them.

Victor Schialli and brothers Martin and Cristian Lanatta escaped from the General Alvear prison in Buenos Aires province the day after Christmas.

They were convicted in 2008 of killing three men allegedly connected to an ephedrine trafficking ring.

A huge manhunt appeared to have finally come to an end when police and politicians said the authorities had apprehended all three.

Mr Macri, vice president Gabriela Michetti, cabinet chief Marcos Pena and Maria Eugenia Vidal, governor of the Buenos Aires province, tweeted congratulations to security forces and promised to continue the fight against drug trafficking.

But a few hours later, the head of the South American nation's police force said that in fact only Martin Lanatta had been captured.

"We continue to intensely search for the two (other) fugitives," said Roman di Santo.

Security minister Patricia Bullrich said the authorities had received "false information".

She blamed a "network of accomplices" for throwing authorities off the trail, and claimed the focus should be on how one of the men was caught, not on the bungled information.

"Argentines can sleep a little easier tonight," she said.

Local television channels showed Martin Lanatta being transported in a rural area of the Santa Fe province north of Buenos Aires.

The search, which has often been broadcast live on national television channels, has focused attention on Argentina's drug problems, which Mr Macri vowed to tackle throughout his election campaign.

The three had been on the run since the escape, at times apparently engaging in shoot-outs with police, in footage captured by news helicopters following the authorities.

The prison break has also had political reverberations - one of the three convicts last year claimed former presidential cabinet chief Anibal Fernandez was the mastermind of the killings.

Mr Fernandez has repeatedly denied the allegation.

Mr Macri's administration initially treated the escape as a local issue to be dealt with by authorities in the province.

But early this week, as the search dragged on, he jumped into the fray and went on the offensive.

He cast the situation as an example of how drug trafficking had run amok, to the point that drug bosses could pull the strings to spring convicts from jail.

"The fight against drugs is a labour we are all committed to," he tweeted, right before congratulating security forces for bringing all three men in.

"There is still much work ahead."

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