The downfall of an Italian mob boss who evaded police for 23 years came after he checked in to a hotel because of an argument with his wife, it has been revealed.

Dubbed the "Cocaine King of Milan", Rocco Morabito had been wanted since 1994 after playing a major role in the drug trafficking trade between South America and Italy.

The 50-year-old – a member of the notorious Calabria-based 'Ndrangheta organised crime syndicate – is said to have been living in Uruguay since 2002.

He was recently arrested in a downtown hotel in the country's capital of Montevideo, authorities said Monday (4 September).

Investigators claimed he had checked in to a room alone after having an argument with his wife.

Uruguay's Ministry of Interior said it had access to the hotel's guest check-in system, allowing investigators to finally pinpoint his location.

Video footage of the arrest shows him handcuffed on a bed wearing only underpants and a black T-shirt.

Named as one of Italy's five most wanted organised criminals, Morabito had been living under an alias and using a false Brazilian passport.

He fled Italy and arrived in Brazil before moving to Pocitos in Uruguay. He then settled with his family in a luxury villa in the exclusive coastal resort of Punta del Este, investigators said.

His capture comes after a joint operation by Uruguayan and Italian authorities, with officers said to have first discovered his whereabouts when he enrolled his daughter in a local school under his own name.

Authorities in Uruguay say the subsequent six-month operation to locate Morabito saw a breakthrough when his name then appeared on the hotel guest list.

Morabito's wife, whose passport states she was born in Angola, was also detained.

She stated that she knew her husband had "problems with the law" but that he'd never told her the full story, Italian media reported.

A number of items were also seized by investigators, including a Glock 9mm pistol, 13 mobile phones, 12 bank cards, two cars, a Portuguese passport, jewels and chequebooks.

Nearly $50,000 in cash and bearer shares worth $100,000 were also seized.

Pending an extradition request from Italy, Morabito has been imprisoned in Uruguay for holding false papers and identity theft.

He faces a 30-year prison sentence on return to his home country after being convicted in his absence on drug trafficking charges and for being a member of a criminal organisation.

The arrest represents a major breakthrough for Italian prosecutors.

The 'Ndrangheta is among the world's richest and most powerful organised crime groups, according to a 2013 Interpol report.

With a speciality in cocaine trafficking, prosecutors say the crime gang positions its top bosses in South America so they can be close to drug producers and ensure deals are secured.

According to his lawyer, Morabito has been leading "a normal life" since 1994 and has not engaged in any criminal activities.

Federico Cafiero de Raho, chief prosecutor for the Calabria region, said Morabito had played "a major role" in the cocaine trade between South America and Milan.