Italian police chief and ex-MP among 334 people arrested in major mafia bust

Italian police chief and ex-MP among 334 people arrested in major mafia bust
Police and soldiers stand guard outside the Italian national Anti-mafia services headquarters in Rome. Photo: AFP
Police arrested 334 people in the operation against the southern Italian 'Ndrangheta mafia organisation, the biggest bust of its kind in years, prosecutors announced on Thursday.

The major operation, targeting what is now considered to be Italy's most powerful mafia group, netted a former MP from Silvio Berlusconi's party and the head of the Calabrian mayors' association.

“This is the biggest sweep since the Palermo maxi-trial (475 suspects tried in 1986-87),” Cantanzo prosecutor Nicola Gratteri said in a statement.

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Lawyers and accountants were also arrested, the renowned anti-mafia magistrate said.

The operation involving 2,500 police as well as army paratroopers targeted the 'Ndrangheta in Vibo Valentia – near the tip of Italy's boot – but also in regions farther north, including Veneto, Lombardy and Tuscany.

Some of those held were arrested in Germany, Switzerland and Bulgaria on European arrest warrants.

Including those already in prison, the vast operation targeted 416 people, crippling 'Ndrangheta's Vibo Valentia, Mancuso di Limbadi and Lo Bianco-Barba clans.

Police also seized property worth 15 million euros.

Those arrested include Giancarlo Pittelli, a renowned lawyer, and former MP and senator from ex-PM Berlusconi's Forza Italia party. Lawyers, accountants and other officials were also arrested.

Gratteri said that Pittelii helped the organised criminals gain access to “politicians, Freemasons and influential professionals”.

A colonel with the paramilitary carabinieri police force was arrested for allegedly passing privileged information to Pittelli.

“I was impressed by the degree of permeability that the 'Ndrangheta has had in the public administration and within State organs,” Gratteri said.

Tourism businesses

The investigation revealed the 'Ndrangheta's “consolidated capacity to infiltrate the business sector, operating with increasingly sophisticated mechanisms, thanks to the contribution of collusive professionals”.

The crime group is extensively involved in buying up tourism businesses including hotels, bars and restaurants to launder money, the prosecutor said.

They have bought land and luxury cars at auction and opened shoe shops in the capital, Rome. The group is also involved in providing funeral services.

Some of the 'Ndrangheta's businesses used to launder money were registered in Britain.

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Police seized 11 sidearms, 12 rifles or machine guns, and “abundant ammunition of various calibres”.

Of Italy's three main mafia groups, the 'Ndrangheta is centred in the Calabria region, while the Camorra syndicate is based in and around Naples and the Costa Nostra Mafia is in Sicily.The municipal police chief in Vibo Valentia, Filippo Nesci, was also among those arrested.

he suspects face charges including criminal association, murder, extortion, loan sharking and money laundering.


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