MILAN (Reuters) - Italy's second most wanted mobster Ernesto Fazzalari was arrested on Sunday after almost two decades on the run, apprehended by the paramilitary Carabinieri police.

Fazzalari, of the notorious Calabrian 'Ndrangheta, Italy's richest and most powerful criminal organization, had been a fugitive since June 1996.

He was the country's second most wanted mafia boss in terms of influence and danger to society behind Matteo Messina Denaro, of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra Mafia, a police statement said.

Fazzalari, 46, faces a life sentence, having already been tried in absentia and found guilty of murder, mafia crimes, drug trafficking, robbery and illegal possession of weapons.

He was found in the early hours of Sunday in a house in a remote and mountainous area of the Calabria region on the southern tip of mainland Italy and did not resist arrest, the police said.

Fazzalari was at the head of one of the many family-based groups that control much of Calabrian society and make vast profits through the import and sale of drugs.

Federico Cafiero de Raho, of the DDA national organization of anti-mafia prosecutors, described the arrest as "historic".

He said Fazzalari was found close to his last known home, indicating that he relied on an extensive network of local contacts to protect him.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi thanked the police and prosecutors involved, tweeting "Hurrah for Italy #Happy Sunday"

Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said: "These are the victories that comfort and support us in the difficult path against organized crime ... There is no fleeing from justice."

(Reporting by Giulia Segreti; Editing by David Goodman)