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Italy busts international online gambling mafia ring

One billion euros’ worth of assets seized across 12 countries included luxury apartments and a football team.

Italy busts international online gambling mafia ring
File photo of police officers standing guard during an antimafia operation. Photo: Marcello Paternostro/AFP

Italy's anti-mafia police arrested 68 suspected mobsters today in a vast international blitz on organised crime groups that had joined forces to make millions of euros through online gambling.

Some 800 policemen were mobilised to bring in suspects from families in the south of Italy from the Cosa Nostra in Sicily, 'Ndrangheta in Calabria and Sacra Corona Unita (SCU) in Puglia, the national organised crime fighting body said in a statement.

“The 'Ndrangheta, and the mafias in Sicily and Puglia, no longer exist,” said the unit's head, Federico Cafiero de Raho.
“They are now fluid organisations that manage different businesses between them,” he told journalists.

The ‘younger generation’ are making a ‘decisive contribution’ to these family businesses with their technological knowledge, said prosecutors.

The groups had made deals with businesses in the online betting sector, enabling them to recycle large sums of money through “illegal parallel circuits” on the betting platforms in exchange for promotion and protection.

The sting was carried out with the help of Eurojust, the European Union's judicial agency in The Hague, as well as police in Britain, the Netherlands, Serbia and Switzerland.

Goods and cash were seized in Albania, Austria, Britain, Germany, the Isle of Man, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Romania, Serbia, the Seychelles and Switzerland.

In total the assets seized, which included luxury apartments and a football team, were worth around one billion euros.

READ ALSO: Citrus fruits, scurvy and Cosa Nostra: Analyzing the origins of the Sicilian mafia 

Informant 'wanted out'
Those arrested were accused of mafia association, money laundering, fraud and tax dodging.

“We have an increasingly clear picture” of the dealings between once-rival mafia associations in Italy, Cafiero de Raho said.

“We can see from ongoing investigations how the mafias work together in different sectors. We still need to establish whether there is a fixed leadership or if the deals change depending on the territories involved,” he said.

Investigators were given a big hand by a Sicilian mobster who helped infiltrate the gambling sector but collaborated with the police after he realised the profit-hungry gangsters “would never have let him quit”, prosecutors in Catania said. 

Prosecutors in Reggio Calabria said its investigation into the online gambling sector in Italy's southern tip had uncovered a secret 'Ndrangheta meeting-place — the Our Lady of the Mountain sanctuary in the heart of the Aspromonte mountains.

Living the high life

Some of those arrested had put up photos on their social media accounts flaunting their ill-gotten gains — pictures the prosecutor's office published today.

The images showed portly mobsters in robes at a spa, showing off Rolex watches and Ferraris, eating lobster and oysters, dining near the Eiffel Tower in Paris and gambling in the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas.

“We must defeat the mafia. We must fight every illegality, every silence, as they are fertile ground for that disgusting weed that we must tear up with all our strength,” said the new head of parliament's anti-mafia committee, Nicola Morra.

Prosecutors in Bari said the SCU's powerful Martiradonna family was believed to have been the link between the mafias on this particular operation, adding that “the name carries weight” for the 'Ndrangheta and Cosa Nostra.

“The younger generation made a decisive contribution to the business,” they said, as Vito Martiradonna had been helped by his tech-savvy sons to crack the lucrative market.

For the SCU leg of the operation alone, investigators monitored 167 suspects, listened to 190,000 wiretaps and watched 40,000 hours of video surveillance footage.

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CRIME

Italian killer with mafia links arrested in France after 16 years on the run

A convicted murderer linked to one of Italy's most powerful mafia organisations was arrested on Thursday in central France, Interpol said.

Italian killer with mafia links arrested in France after 16 years on the run

Edgardo Greco, 63, is suspected of belonging to the notorious ‘Ndrangheta, a powerful mafia organisation in Calabria, southern Italy.

He is wanted in Italy to serve a life sentence for the murders of Stefano and Giuseppe Bartolomeo, and accused of the attempted murder of Emiliano Mosciaro “as part of a mafia war between the Pino Sena and Perna Pranno gangs that marked the early 1990s”, Interpol said.

The Bartolomeo brothers were beaten to death with iron bars in a fish warehouse, Italian police said.

Greco’s arrest in central France came with help for Italy and France from the “Cooperation against ‘Ndrangheta Project” (I-CAN) run by Interpol, which facilitates police cooperation between its 195 member states.

READ ALSO: Italian police seize €250 million and arrest 56 in latest mafia blitz

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi, quoted in Interpol’s statement, said the arrests demonstrated his country’s commitment to “fighting all forms of organised crime and locating dangerous fugitives”.

The ‘Ndrangheta is considered Italy’s most extensive and powerful mafia group, Interpol said, operating worldwide and with strong ties to the trade in cocaine bound for Europe from South America

I-CAN’s job is help raise awareness of ‘Ndrangheta and their modus operandi, sharing police information to dismantle their networks and operations, the agency said.

The arrest of Greco, who worked in the evenings in a pizza restaurant under an assumed named according to Italian media, came a week after Italian police said it had dismantled a ‘Ndrangheta mafia ring dominating a large area of southern Calabria and seized assets exceeding 250 million euros.

Fifty-six people, many already in prison, were put under criminal investigation for a series of crimes including mafia-related conspiracy, extortion, kidnapping, bribery and possession of weapons, police and prosecutors said.

The arrest of Greco comes just over two weeks after Italian police arrested one of the most notorious bosses of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra mafia, Matteo Messina Denaro, who had been on the run for 30 years.

The 60-year-old was arrested after visiting a health clinic where he was being treated in the Sicilian capital Palermo

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