International 'Ndrangheta op nabs 90

Multi-country police operation hits Locride clans

(ANSA) - Rome, December 5 - Police executed 90 arrest warrants on Wednesday as part of an international operation against the Calabrian-based 'Ndrangheta mafia. The arrests were made in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and countries in South America. The operation hit various important alleged members of clans in the high-crime Locride area of Calabria.
    The 'Ndrangheta network spanned South America to Turkey via northern Europe and was based around the main Locride clans like the Pelle-Vottaris of San Luca, the Iettos of Natile di Careri and the Ursinis of Gioiosa Ionica, police and prosecutors told a press conference.
    "Huge amounts of cocaine flooded in from South America to Italy and northern Europe, particularly Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, also thanks to the collaboration of Turkish citizens who hid the drugs in concealed spaces of cars and lorries," they said.
    Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said "'Ndrangheta, maxi-operation with 90 arrests between Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and South America.
    "Thanks and honour to the police and the investigators, always in the front line in the fight against the mafias.
    "PS: I hope no one gets offended or attacks me for these compliments of mine".
    Salvini was referring to Turin Chief Prosecutor Armando Spataro who said Tuesday Salvini had jeopardised an operation against the Nigerian mafia in Italy by tweeting about it before it was completed.
    Salvini retorted that veteran prosecutor Spadaro should either retire or go into politics where he could be judged for his comments.
    Tuesday's operation confirmed how far 'Ndrangheta has grown from being poor cousins of Sicily's Cosa Nostra, dealing mainly in kidnappings on their mountainous and impregnable Calabrian home turf.
    They have also expanded their operations to central and northern Italy as well as northern Europe, Canada and Australia, to mention just a few of their new strongholds.
    In the last such major police op against the mafia, a year ago, prosecutors landed a big blow on the 'Ndrangheta's operations in the wealthy northern region of Lombardy, with the mayor of the town of Seregno among 24 arrested and the former deputy governor of the region among those probed.
    The police op was linked to a probe into alleged infiltration of Lombardy's political and business world by 'Ndrangheta, Italy's richest, most powerful and dangerous mafia.
    Some 21 suspects were taken to jail and three were put under house arrest, including Edoardo Mazza, the mayor of the province of Monza town of Seregno and a member of ex-premier and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia party.
    A businessman was caught on a wiretap telling Mario former deputy governor Mario Mantovani that "Milan is like San Luca", a notorious Calabrian fief of 'Ndrangheta.
    Prosecutor Ilda Boccassini, who led the probe, said that "I can say there is a system" based on "omerta' (the mafia code of silence) and on "advantages for those who turn to the anti-State to get benefits".
    Speaking at a press conference, she said "it is easy for the clans to infiltrate the institutional fabric".
    Italian police have gradually been digging behind the wall of silence or omerta' that for 'Ndrangheta is even more impenetrable than that of Sicily's Cosa Nostra.
    In January 2015 police arrested more than 160 people in the biggest-ever operation against a northern business arm of 'Ndrangheta.
    The op showed how far the one-time southern kidnapping gangs - long poor relations to Sicily's Cosa Nostra but now grown plump on cocaine cash - had infiltrated the economy of Italy's most affluent regions, especially the thriving economy of Reggio Emilia around Bologna.
    Other probes have shown 'Ndrangheta infiltration in the region around Milan, Lombardy, the region around Genoa, Liguria, and the region around Turin, Piedmont.
    In February 2014 a major Italian-FBI bust showed that 'Ndrangheta was muscling in on the drug operations of one of Cosa Nostra's historic five families in New York, the Gambinos.
    Before that, in July 2010, a massive police operation netted the head of the 'Ndrangheta and 300 others.
    Domenico Oppedisano, 80, anointed the equivalent of the 'boss of bosses' in Cosa Nostra at a Calabrian shrine to the Madonna a year previously, was caught along with their reputed head in Lombardy, Pino Neri.
    'Ndrangheta is so secretive that the replacement for Oppedisano is not known.
    'Ndrangheta (from a Greek word meaning 'heroism' or 'virtue') once lived in the twin shadow of Cosa Nostra in Sicily and the Camorra in Naples.
    While those two syndicates, notably the Sicilians, were feeding off the transatlantic heroin trade through operations like the infamous 'French connection', 'Ndrangheta was only just emerging from its traditional stock-in-trade of kidnappings in the Calabrian highlands.
    It has since become a highly sophisticated global network with a chokehold on the European cocaine trade and control over swathes of its home turf where police fear to tread, Italian officials say.
    As well as being the richest, 'Ndrangheta is also regarded as the most impenetrable of Italy's mafias, with its close-knit family-based organisation outdoing the Sicilian mafia in its ability to defeat police efforts to turn members into State witnesses.
    The European law enforcement agency Europol has identified the 'Ndrangheta mafia as one of the "most threatening" organized crime groups on the global level, due to its "enormous financial might" and "immense corruptive power," with a presence in Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, US, Colombia and Australia, where 'Ndrangheta turf wars have gained headlines.
    In Europe, 'Ndrangheta really only came into the public eye in 2007, when six clan members were gunned down on the midsummer Ferragosto holiday in the German city of Duisburg in a feud that began as a wedding spat in 1991.
    A string of 'Ndrangheta-linked businesses have been seized in the last few years all over northern Italy, and especially in the affluent Lombard belt around Milan, and a Lombardy regional councillor was placed under investigation for buying votes from transplanted clans.
    On the Italian Riviera, the town councils of Bordighera and Ventimiglia were dissolved for 'Ndrangheta infiltration in 2011 and 2012, the first non-Calabrian municipalities to be wound up because of such penetration.
    In Rome, the Calabrian Mob has laundered money in a string of plum properties, as attested to by recent seizures police say are only the tip of the iceberg.
    In November 2013 Grand Hotel Gianicolo, a former monastery converted into a four-star hotel for the Catholic Church's Jubilee in 2000, was seized from Calabrian businessmen linked to the 'Ndrangheta.
    It is one of the swankiest properties on the hill, Gianicolo or Janiculum, that affords one of the most breathtaking views over Rome.
    Eight years ago a former Dolce Vita-era bar and restaurant on the storied Via Veneto, the Caffe' De Paris, turned out to be in the hands of the Calabrian Mob.
    More recently, gangsters involved in a hitherto-unknown Rome crime organisation that allegedly had fingers in a web of business and political operations were said to have links to other mafias including 'Ndrangheta.