Mafia drug profits on the rebound

Italian police on Wednesday arrested 24 suspected mafia members for alleged involvement in drug trafficking, including a local boss who officially worked as the director of a funeral home.

Mafia drug profits on the rebound
The mafia is returning to drug trafficking as a source of income. Photo: Flickr

Prosecutors said their probe had shown that the mafia was returning to the high profits from drugs since revenues from extortion were going down because of Italy's prolonged economic crisis.

"Cosa Nostra is re-becoming a player in drug trafficking. Revenue from extortion is drying up and the clans need other paths to enrichment," Palermo prosecutor Francesco Messineo said.

"Door-to-door racketeering is no longer viable. It's risky and the revenue is too low," he said.

The police also released video showing vintage Dom Perignon champagne bottles found in one raid, a group of suspects setting fire to a bar and another group plotting to kill a father and son.

Wiretaps of conversations including the chief suspect, Alessandro D'Ambrogio, and other alleged drug dealers were also provided to the media.

"We're not joking around any more. You want Sicily? I give you Sicily. Only I can give it to you," a suspect is heard telling one dealer.

"I weigh 100 kilos (221 pounds) and I can weigh even more because I eat a lot," he says in what police said was a reference to a cocaine shipment.

Investigators in the operation codenamed "Alexander" said they found close ties between two traditionally rival mafia clans in handling drug shipments from North Africa and South America.

The 39-year-old D'Ambrogio — known as "The Little One" — is alleged to lead the Porta Nuova clan and was filmed at a saint's feast day in Palermo surrounded by associates and people coming to him for business advice and personal issues.

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Runner dies in Italy-to-France ultra marathon

A runner taking part in an ultra-marathon in the Alps has died during the race after a fatal fall on a high-altitude mountain path, emergency services told AFP on Wednesday.

Runner dies in Italy-to-France ultra marathon
The race traverses Mont Blanc. Illustration photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP

The 35-year-old from the Czech Republic was taking part in a warm-up event ahead of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, a famed endurance event that takes place every year around western Europe’s highest peak.

The man fell during the night after setting off with more than 1,000 other runners from the Italian ski resort of Courmayeur on Tuesday afternoon along the 145-kilometre course of the TDS race to Chamonix in France.

Emergency services were alerted after midnight on Wednesday and flew in a helicopter to the scene of the accident in the Bourg-Saint-Maurice district, but they were unable to revive him, local police commander Patrice Ribes told AFP.

Organisers of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, which takes places on Friday, said it was the first death in one of their events since their start in 2003.

Elsewhere in the French Alps on Wednesday, a 60-year-old climber died in the Isère region after suffering a fall of 30 metres.