Hundreds of police in Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands have arrested at least 84 suspected mobsters and seized around 2 million euros (£1.7 million) in co-ordinated raids targeting a powerful branch of the Italian mafia.
The raids were the culmination of an investigation codenamed Pollino that was launched in 2016 against the ‘ndrangheta criminal group on allegations of cocaine trafficking, money laundering, bribery and violence.
The operation was co-ordinated by Eurojust, the European prosecution agency that fights cross-border organised crime.
Eurojust said the massive operation was the biggest of its kind in Europe. Four tons of cocaine were traced during the two-year joint investigation, while cocaine and ecstasy pills were seized in Wednesday’s raids.
“Today we send a clear message to organised crime groups across Europe,” Eurojust vice president Filippo Spiezia said. “They are not the only ones able to operate across borders; so are Europe’s judiciary and law enforcement communities.”
Eurojust said Italian authorities arrested 41 suspects mainly in the southern regions of Calabria and Catanzaro.
In Germany, federal police said there had been multiple arrests in early morning raids on premises linked to the southern Italy-based crime group. The focus was on the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, which borders the Netherlands and Belgium, and Bavaria to the south.
Five suspects were arrested in the Netherlands, where prosecutors got the ball rolling for the investigation in 2014 with probes into two Italian restaurants, and more were detained over the border in Belgium.
Italian police hailed the co-operation between European police forces, saying it was an important new crimefighting tactic that allowed investigators in different countries to share information in real time.
Federico Cafiero De Raho, Italian anti-mafia and anti-terrorism national prosecutor, sounded a note of caution, saying the raids only scratched the surface of the powerful ‘ndrangheta, whose tentacles and illicit activities spread all over the world.
Speaking in The Hague, Mr De Raho said the arrests “are nothing for ‘ndrangheta. There are thousands of people who should be arrested and billions of euros that should be seized”.
The ‘ndrangheta is Italy’s most powerful criminal organisation, eclipsing Sicily’s Cosa Nostra and the Naples area Camorra.
It was the second significant mob takedown in as many days. On Tuesday, Italian authorities said they had dismantled the rebuilt upper echelons of the Cosa Nostra in the Sicilian capital of Palermo by arresting 46 people, including Settimo Mineo, the man presumed to have taken over as provincial kingpin after the death of the “boss of bosses” Salvatore “Toto” Riina.