Decorated undercover mafia hunter dies

Fausto Cattaneo at the Federal Criminal Court in 2015 Keystone

Fausto “Tato” Cattaneo, who won international recognition for his work as a leading anti-mafia agent in Italian-speaking canton Ticino, has died aged 75. 

This content was published on February 12, 2019 minutes

Cattaneo was one of the most decorated undercover agents of his generation, whose activities led to the prosecution of senior members of organised criminal gangs and massive seizures of drugs.  

He was born in Roveredo, in the Italian-speaking part of canton Graubünden in eastern Switzerland. He joined the anti-drug police unit in Locarno in 1975 and headed the federal anti-drug force from 1987 to 1992, working closely with the American Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the FBI, the CIA, Interpol and the German federal criminal police. The then US President Ronald Reagan decorated him for his services.

In 2001 he published a bestseller, Comment J’ai Infiltré Les Cartels de La Drogue (How I infiltrated the drug cartels) – the German had the catchier title of Deckname Tato (Codename Tato). This was turned into a film, Dirty Money, L’infiltréExternal link. Cattaneo was working on a second book when he died on Monday, the day before his 76th birthday. He had been suffering from ALS, motor neurone disease. 

In a chapter from his book, quoted by in 2001, he wrote about life as an undercover agent: 

“As occasion demanded, I played the roles of financier, accountant and entrepreneur, but also driver and bodyguard. Because we lacked adequate organisation and resources, I often had to improvise in order to perfect my disguise. In many cases, I had to seek the help of friends and acquaintances so I could drive around in expensive cars or receive drug traffickers in luxury homes or offices.” 

Court case 

In his book Cattaneo also repeated allegations that a federal police officer and former Ticino colleague enriched himself illegally in a covert investigation in Nice. 

The case ended in court. Cattaneo and the head of the security police for canton Vaud were accused of providing federal prosecutors with false information in 2003 and inciting them to arrest a federal police officer on suspicion of drug-related crimes, money laundering and corruption. 

The Federal Criminal Court finally acquitted Cattaneo and his co-defendant of all charges in October 2015. Cattaneo received around CHF172,000 ($171,000) in compensation.

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