A fugitive Italian mafia boss allegedly in charge of his clan's drug operation in Latin America has been arrested while shopping on the tourist island of Margarita, off the coast of Venezuela.

Salvatore Bonomolo, 47, was arrested in a mall in the town of Porlamar, following a join operation carried out by Italian police, Interpol and Venezuelan authorities. He was hiding under the false name of Angelo Garofalo and, once arrested, pretended to be a simple Italian tourist before his fingerprints betrayed him.

Bonomolo, a member of the Sicilian clan Palermo Centro, has been on the run from the Italian authorities since 2007, when he was sentenced in absentia to over 10 years' imprisonment for criminal conspiracy and extortion.

Having begun his career as a "pizzo" collector, Bonomolo rapidly ascended his clan's hierarchies. Prior to his arrest, police believed he was his gang's South America "ambassador" for drug businesses.

According to a 2012 report by Italian business association Confesercenti, the country's criminal organizations make around €60bn of their €130bn total turnover from drug trafficking.

During his years at large Bonomolo never lost contact with his family; indeed he used relatives to wire money and communicate with his gang's members during his abscondment.

Police hacked several phone calls from Bonomolo's relatives in Italy, made from public phone boxes to elude detectives. One of these calls was eventually used to locate the fugitive.

"[The arrest] shows that there are no impunity heavens and that phone tapping practices are essential to police investigations," said state prosecutor Antonio Ingroia, who led the investigation.

Bonomolo is now being held in custody in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, awaiting extradition to Italy.