Italian public officials arrested as police uncover major mafia fraud

Public officials were among 63 people arrested in a major operation targeting Calabria's powerful 'Ndrangheta mafia.

Italian public officials arrested as police uncover major mafia fraud
Police and soldiers outside the Italian National Anti-Mafia Services (DNA) headquarters. File photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Italian police said on Thursday they had dismantled a major organised crime ring involving public works tenders valued at over 100 million euros ($110 million), including EU funds.

READ ALSO: Mafia set to profit from Italy's coronavirus devastation

Eleven public officials were identified among the 63 people targeted in the operation, codenamed “Waterfront”, against the powerful 'Ndrangheta mafia of southern Italy, Reggio Calabria  financial police said in a statement.

Allegations include public tender fraud, abuse of office, and bribery.

“The aim of the criminal association was to guarantee the control of the entire system of public tenders issued by Calabrian contracting entities,” the statement said.

Fourteen people were placed under house arrest, while police seized the financial assets of 45 suspects and the corporate assets of 36 companies based not only in the south but also around Rome and Tuscany.


Investigators said the cartel was made up of multiple companies “capable of winning – through auction disturbances facilitated by the mafia – at least 22 public tenders, in systematic fraud against the Calabria Region and the European Community.”

Seven of the tenders from 2007 and 2013 involved European Union funds totalling 42 million euros to redevelop urban and waterfront areas near Gioia Tauro, a port city at the toe of Italy's boot.

“Systemic fraud” was also found in related public supplies contracts, police said.

Besides accounting irregularities, investigators also found that complicit contractors had failed to perform quality tests on asphalt to be used in various sports complexes and an underground car park in Gioia Tauro, while concrete intended for sections of highway used “materials of lower quality”
than demanded by the contract.

The 'Ndrangheta, centred in the most southern region of Calabria, has surpassed Sicily's more famous Cosa Nostra to become Italy's most powerful mafia group.

A major police sting in December against the group resulted in the arrest of 334 people, including a police colonel and a former MP.

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Italy’s president calls for ‘full truth’ on anniversary of Bologna bombing

President Sergio Mattarella said on Tuesday it was the state's duty to shed more light on the 1980 bombing of Bologna's train station, on the 42nd anniversary of the attack that killed 85 people and injured 200.

Italy's president calls for 'full truth' on anniversary of Bologna bombing

On August 2nd 1980, a bomb exploded in the railway station’s waiting room, causing devastation on an unprecedented scale.

Five members of terrorist groups were later convicted in relation to the bombing, the worst episode in Italy’s ‘Years of Lead’ period of political violence in the 1970s and 80s.

Most recently, in 2020, a former member of the far-right Armed Revolutionary Nucleus (NAR) was sentenced to life imprisonment for providing logistical support to those who carried out the attack.

But suspicions remain of cover-ups and the involvement of “deviant elements” within the nation’s security services, reported Italian news agency Ansa.

READ ALSO: Bologna massacre: 40 years on, questions remain over Italy’s deadliest postwar terror attack

“The bomb that killed people who happened to be at the station on that morning 42 years ago still reverberates with violence in the depths of the country’s conscience,” Mattarella said in a speech marking the anniversary on Tuesday.

“It was the act of cowardly men of unequalled inhumanity, one of the most terrible of the history of the Italian Republic.

A train compartment at Bologna station pictured following the 1980 bombing attributed to the neo-fascist terrorist organization Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari.

“It was a terrorist attack that sought to destabilise democratic institutions and sow fear, hitting ordinary citizens going about their everyday tasks.

“On the day of the anniversary our thoughts go, above all, to the relatives forced to suffer the greatest pain.

“The neo-fascist nature of the massacre has been established in court and further steps have been made to unveil the cover-ups and those who ordered the attack in order to comply with the Republic’s duty to seek the full truth”.

The bombing remains Western Europe’s fourth deadliest postwar terror attack, and one of the most devastating in Italy’s history.