Police across Europe have arrested more than 100 people in a crackdown on Italy’s most powerful mafia group. They said it was the biggest operation to have ever been carried out against the ‘Ndrangheta – which is one of the largest crime networks in the world.
Ten countries were involved, with assets worth €25m (£22m) also seized.
Most of the arrests took place in Italy, with suspects facing charges of international drug trafficking, money laundering and possession of weapons.
Italian anti-mafia prosecutors said “Operation Eureka” was unprecedented in terms of scale.
It was part of a three-year investigation spanning Italy, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Slovenia, Romania as well as Brazil and Panama, according to the EU’s law enforcement agency Europol.
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In Italy 108 suspects were arrested and more than 1,000 officers were deployed from a unit that deals with organised crime and terrorism.
Millions of euros were seized, as well as thousands of tonnes of narcotics – mostly cocaine, but also heroin and hashish. Italian police said there were another 13 arrests in Belgium and 24 in Germany.
Italian police released a video showing some of the seized items including gold bars, handguns, assault rifles and stacks of cash.
Italian police released images of some of the seized items, including piles of banknotes
The investigation has revealed important new information about how some of the highest levels of the ‘Ndrangheta operate – including during the Covid pandemic.
“They flooded Europe with drugs that were shipped from South America in ship containers that docked in European ports like Antwerp, Rotterdam or Gioia Tauro. Then, they laundered the money they made in several European countries,” said Italian prosecutor Giovanni Melillo.
In Germany, investigators uncovered a widespread network of restaurants, pizzerias, cafes and ice cream parlours – used as fronts to launder money.
“We also discovered that the ‘Ndrangheta worked with Chinese criminals specialised in moving large sums of cash between countries,” said Mr Melillo.
Belgian investigators befriended some of the suspects, and after three years of friendship they were invited to join them on holiday in San Luca, Calabria, in southern Italy – which is where many of the arrests were made.
The police used sophisticated message decryption systems as part of their investigation.
‘Ndrangheta members often speak in code, use nicknames and communicate via encrypted messages.
The ‘Ndrangheta, which has its roots in Calabria, has surpassed Cosa Nostra as the most powerful mafia group in the country, and operates in more than 40 countries around the world.
They are involved in a wide range of organised criminal activities: drug trafficking, money laundering, extortion and the rigging of public contracts.
Italian and Belgian investigators believe that the crime group smuggled close to 25,000kg of cocaine between October 2019 and January 2022 and funneled more than €22m from Calabria to Belgium, the Netherlands and South America.
In the last few years, there’s been a huge police effort to fight the ‘Ndrangheta so these arrests will be seen as a big victory for anti-mafia prosecutors in Italy and across Europe.
May 3, 2023 Published by The BBC News.