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Italy nabs criminal gang responsible for cheese and wine heists

In the early hours of Monday morning, police in northern Italy dismantled a criminal ring dedicated to food thefts.

Italy nabs criminal gang responsible for cheese and wine heists
The gang specialized in nabbing luxury cheeses and wines. File photo: AFP

The criminals had targeted cheese factories, shops and homes in the Emilia-Romagna region, known for its top quality produce and brands including Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and Modena's balsamic vinegar.

Their hauls had included 16,000 bottles of fine wines, worth a total of around €100,000, as well as €80,000 worth of Parmigiano-Reggiano, a protected product which is only produced in the countryside around Modena, Bologna and Parma.

Ten people were arrested in the early morning swoop, Modena police said in a statement, while one other suspect remains at large.

Police launched Operation Wine and Cheese, as it was called, following a series of high-value food thefts between 2015 and 2016. 

Officers discovered that one member of the gang, who had professional links to agricultural businesses in the region, passed on the information to his accomplices, who then carried out the thefts.

The video below shows one of the gang's thefts in action.

READ ALSO: Sicily blackmailers threatened to destroy 230 bottles of fine wine

Food theft is a widespread problem in Italy – and parmesan a popular target for robbers.

In total, €6 million worth of the prized cheese was stolen between 2015 and 2016, according to the Italy's Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium.

Just one 40-kilogram wheel of the 24-month-aged cheese is worth €500, and the fact that rural producers are often ill-equipped when it comes to security measures makes them soft targets. 

Although each wheel carries a traceable watermark, it is likely that thieves simply cut up the cheese before selling it at provincial markets.

In order to counteract the phenomenon, police last year announced plans to step up night patrols in countryside areas and stopping and searching vans in a bid to catch gangs of cheese robbers

Italians are very protective of their precious parmesan, which in addition to thieves, also faces threats from the online auction world. Online sales of fake versions of the cheese – which is protected by EU food policy – cost producers millions each year.

And in 2015, the consortium of Parmigiano Reggiano producers was forced to take legal action against adult video website PornHub over a “vile and offensive” ad campaign which referred to the luxury cheese.

 

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CRIME

 Italian police arrest mafia member after three women killed in Rome

Italian police on Saturday arrested a mafia member suspected of killing two alleged Chinese prostitutes and a Colombian sex worker in Rome, local media reported.

 Italian police arrest mafia member after three women killed in Rome

The bodies of the two Chinese women were discovered in a residential building in the upmarket Prati district on Thursday morning, while the body of the South American was found in an apartment in the same neighbourhood an hour later.

All three victims were stabbed, according to Italian media reports.

According to the Corriere della Sera newspaper, footage from surveillance cameras allowed police to identify 51-year-old Giandavide De Pau, who had been prosecuted in the past for drug trafficking and sexual assault.

The suspect is reportedly a member of a mafia clan headed by Michele Senese, who is currently serving a life sentence. De Pau is believed to have been one of Senese’s closest collaborators, acting as his personal driver and handyman.

In 2008 and 2011, the suspect had also spent time in a psychiatric hospital.

It is unknown whether the suspected killer was carrying out a mafia hit or acting alone, possibly under the influence of drugs, which were found at the home of some family members where he is believed to have sought refuge after the police manhunt got underway, Corriere della Sera reported.

Several newspapers had warned of a possible “serial killer” in the Italian capital.

The body of one of the Chinese victims was spotted by a neighbour where it lay, naked on a landing. The woman, believed to be in her 40s, had suffered head and stomach injuries, the newspaper said.

When police entered her apartment, they found the body of the second Chinese woman.

Nobody in the building appeared to have heard the murders take place, according to residents.

“Everybody knew there was a house of ill repute here, I’d see people arriving at 2:00 am, 3:00 am,” a woman who lived in the building told reporters.

The body of the Colombian, who was 65, was found by a friend, Corriere della Sera said.

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