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Italy busts major mafia scam that defrauded the EU of millions

AFP
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Italy busts major mafia scam that defrauded the EU of millions
Images from a police helicopter showing suspects tracked as part of a major anti-mafia operation in Sicily. Photo: AFP/Guardia di Finanza

Italian police have dismantled a massive mafia operation in Sicily which had been defrauding the European Union of millions of euros in funds destined for farmers.

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A total of 94 people had been arrested in early morning raids, the public prosecutor in Messina said in a statement on Wednesday.

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Those arrested included the heads of two mafia families, a notary, entrepreneurs and public administrators, reportedly charged with helping farmers access the funds.

Since 2013, the so-called Tortorici Mafia - named after a town within the Nebrodi mountainous area in the island's northeast - had defrauded about 10 million euros from the EU,  reported Italian TV news channel Rai24.

A map showing the areas of Sicily where mafia clans were running the scam. Photo: Guardia di Finanza

The clan falsely claimed they owned plots of land that in reality were owned by the region and local councils, thereby tapping EU funding.

Key to the plot were employees of a public agency for agricultural payments, which distributes EU funds to farmers, and those working for assistance centres set up to help farmers tap available funding.

In a charge sheet, Judge Sergio Matroeni said the swindle relied on the "unprincipled support" of white-collar workers with the "necessary know-how to infiltrate the mafia into the nerve centre of public funding" and knew how to exploit lax controls.

Forty-eight of those arrested were sent to jail while the others were placed under house arrest, police said.

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