Over 160 arrested in 'historic' 'Ndrangheta operation

Reggio Emilia-infiltrated clans busted in 'unprecedented' op

(ANSA) - Rome, January 28 - Italian police on Wednesday arrested more than 160 people in the biggest-ever operation against a northern business arm of the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta mafia, Italy's richest and most dangerous criminal organisation.
    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.
    National Anti-Mafia Prosecutor Prosecutor Franco Roberti said the Bologna-based operation was "historic and unprecedented".
    It was "imposing and decisive in the fight against the mafia in the north," he said. "I can't recall an intervention of this type to combat a strong and monolithic criminal organisation, deeply infiltrated (in the northern economy)", Roberti said.
    As well as economic crimes and attempted bribery of politicians, those arrested were charged with mafia offences ranging from racketeering to weapons possession, and some 100 million euros in assets were seized.
    Among other things, two of the alleged mafia members were captured in a wiretap laughing at a deadly Italian earthquake and planning how to take advantage of reconstruction contracts.
    Prosecutors said the conversation between suspected 'Ndrangheta members Gaetano Blasco and Antonio Valerio caught them laughing at the 2012 disaster in Emilia Romagna.
    They joked about building collapses and how they would be able to take advantage of construction work in the conversation that dates from May 29, 2012 - the second day of disastrous tremors in the region that ultimately killed 12.
    Among those arrested Wednesday was Giuseppe Iaquinta, the building-contractor father of 2006 World Cup-winning striker Vincenzo Iaquinta.
    One of those probed was the driver of the Reggio Emilia police chief. The man is suspected of tipping off clans.
    The prosecutor who led the probe said the group had its epicenter in Reggio Emilia and was primarily focused on business, unlike 'Ndrangheta groups in other northern regions that still cling to core Mob activities - while trying to get into big events like Expo Milan 2015, where their attempts were thwarted. "In Emilia we don't have clans like in Lombardy or Piedmont, but rather the presence of an organization purely entrepreneurial in content," said Bologna prosecutor Roberto Alfonso.
    Alfonso said the group had its origins on June 9, 1982, when Antonino Dragone arrived in Emilia and went on to develop the group's activities for the next 32 years.
    "The association developed, growing like a metastasis in a healthy body," Alfonso said.
    Businessmen, public administrators, public safety officials, and a journalist were among the almost 170 arrested after investigations revealed the group's primary mafia-related business activities were in the building and construction sector.
    Alfonso said Marco Gibertini, a journalist arrested as an accomplice to the organization, gave TV and print media space to members of the group, allowing them interviews and public declarations, and also connected members of the group with politicians and businesspeople he knew.
    Meanwhile, back home down south, "via a number of professionals", the Cutro clan showed it had contact with top judicial and ecclesiastical circles," said Catanzaro prosecutor Vincenzo Antonio Lombardo.
    Wednesday's op was the biggest against the Calabrian Mob since a major Italian-FBI bust last February which 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 replaceent 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 growing fat on 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.
    Six 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, leftwing cooperatives involved in a hitherto-unknown Rome mafia organisation that allegedly had fingers in a web of business and political operations were said to have links to 'Ndrangheta.


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