In an embarrassment to President Mauricio Macri’s young administration, Argentina’s top police officials have said that only one of three notorious convicts were in custody just hours after top officials had celebrated the capture of all three fugitives.
The near two-week manhunt appeared to have finally come to an end on Saturday afternoon, when several police and top politicians said authorities had apprehended Victor Schialli and brothers Martin and Cristian Lanatta. The men 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.
Macri, Vice President Gabriela Michetti, Cabinet chief Marcos Pena and Maria Eugenia Vidal, governor of the Buenos Aires province, tweeted congratulatory messages 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 federal 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 that authorities had received “false information”.
She blamed a “network of accomplices” for throwing authorities off the trail. She said 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 Macri vowed to combat throughout his election campaign.
The three had been on the run since the escape, at times apparently engaging in shootouts with police, made-for-movie footage captured by news helicopters following authorities.