More than 100 suspected Italian mafia members arrested in Europe-wide raids

Police raided 150 addresses in eight countries across Europe in the "biggest ever" swoop targeting the notorious Italian 'Ndrangheta mafia, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

A suspected 'Ndrangheta member is arrested in Cologne, western Germany, in 2018.
A suspected 'Ndrangheta member is arrested in Cologne, western Germany, in 2018. Photo by Oliver Berg/ AFP.

Eric van Duyse, a spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutors’ office, told a news conference that 1,400 police officers in Italy were involved in the raids, revising down a figure of 3,000 prosecutors had given earlier.

“It is likely the biggest operation ever carried out in Europe against the Calabrese mafia,” they said in a statement.

Van Duyse said that more than 1,000 police officers in Germany took part, adding that the European raids were triggered from a Belgian prosecutors’ investigation opened five years ago “under the greatest secrecy”.

The EU countries where the raids took place were Italy, Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Slovenia and Romania, prosecutors said.

In Belgium, there were 25 police raids, and 13 people were arrested, including at least six who were wanted under European arrest warrants issued by Italy.

Thirty people were arrested in Germany alone as dozens of apartments, houses and offices were searched.

“The suspects are accused, among other things, of money laundering, organised tax evasion, organised fraud and narcotics smuggling,” the regional prosecutors said in a joint statement.

READ ALSO: Top Italian ‘Ndrangheta boss arrested after five years on the run

The ‘Ndrangheta is Italy’s most powerful and wealthy mafia, controlling the bulk of cocaine flowing into Europe. It operates in more than 40 countries around the world.

It has successfully expanded well beyond its traditional domains of drug trafficking and loan sharking, now using shell companies and frontmen to reinvest illegal gains in the legitimate economy.

Investigators in Italy’s Reggio Calabria on Wednesday identified 108 suspects as part of the case, for alleged crimes including mafia association, international drug trafficking and weapons trafficking.

Grip on cocaine imports

A spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office said it had launched the European investigation and had been working on the case for “four, five years”, in cooperation with other EU states.

Around 20 raids were carried out in Belgium alone.

In North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, police detained 15 suspects, while raiding 51 properties.

In the southern state of Bavaria, police were investigating eight people, including four who were arrested.

READ ALSO: What is Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta mafia?

Another 11 suspects were picked up in the states of Thuringia and Rhineland-Palatinate, while two men sought in Saarland were detained in Italy.

Based in Calabria, the region that forms the tip of Italy’s boot, the ‘Ndrangheta is considered one of the world’s most powerful crime syndicates due to its grip on the cocaine import market.

It has extended its reach across all parts of the world, and it has long surpassed Sicily’s Cosa Nostra as Italy’s biggest mafia organisation.

Its presence in Germany was confirmed in 2007 when six people were killed outside a pizzeria in the town of Duisburg.

The victims were rival clan members killed as part of a long-running feud between families from the town of Calabria’s San Luca, home to the Giorgi family.

Late last month Italian authorities announced the arrest of a top boss of the ‘Ndrangheta mafia after almost five years on the run, who featured on the police’s list of most dangerous criminals.

READ ALSO: Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta mafia ‘on all continents’ and still growing

Pasquale Bonavota, 49, had been wanted since November 2018, after escaping an arrest warrant for homicide and mafia association issued by a magistrate in Calabria, in southern Italy.

Bonavota is considered the brains of the ‘Ndrangheta’s Bonavota clan, which includes his two brothers, based in the Sant’Onofrio area of the Calabrian province of Vibo Valentia.

He was described as being a leader who “took the most important decisions” along with other top ‘Ndrangheta bosses, and “looked after the interests of the association in the Rome area and in the gambling sectors and drug trafficking”.

The arrest of Bonavota came three months after the high-profile capture of Sicilian mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro.

The Cosa Nostra boss had been a fugitive for 30 years.

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Sicilian mafia boss Messina Denaro dies after long illness

The notorious mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, captured in January after three decades on the run, has died in hospital in central Italy.

Sicilian mafia boss Messina Denaro dies after long illness

Matteo Messina Denaro, known as the ‘last godfather’ of the Cosa Nostra mafia and accused of a long series of heinous crimes, died in the early hours of Monday, Italian news agency Ansa announced overnight.

The 61-year-old had colon cancer, for which he had sought treatment while on the run – a decision that reportedly brought him to the attention of the authorities, who arrested him at a clinic in Palermo.

Messina Denaro was one of the most ruthless bosses in Cosa Nostra, the real-life Sicilian crime syndicate depicted in the Godfather movies.

He was convicted by the courts of involvement in the murder of anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone in 1992 and in deadly bombings in Rome, Florence and Milan in 1993.

One of his six life sentences was also handed down for the kidnapping and subsequent murder of the 12-year-old son of a witness in the Falcone case.

Messina Denaro disappeared in the summer of 1993, and spent the next 30 years on the run as the Italian state cracked down on the Sicilian mob.

READ ALSO: Messina Denaro: How Italy caught ‘most wanted’ mafia boss after 30 years

But he remained the top name on Italy’s most-wanted list and, increasingly became a figure of legend.

He was arrested on January 16th as he visited a health clinic where he was being treated using a fake identity.

Mafia boss hideout in Sicily

Police officers prevent access to mafia boss Messina Denaro’s hideout in Campobello di Mazara, Sicily. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

He was detained in a high-security jail in L’Aquila, central Italy, where he continued treatment for his cancer in his cell.

In August, Messina Denaro was moved to the inmates’ ward of the local hospital, where his condition had declined in recent days.

This weekend, media reports said he was in an “irreversible coma”. Medics had stopped feeding him and he had asked not to be resuscitated, they added.

His arrest may have brought some relief for his victims, but the mob boss always maintained his silence.

In interviews in custody since being arrested, Messina Denaro even denied he was a member of the Cosa Nostra.


After Messina Denaro went on the run, there was intense speculation that he had gone abroad – and he likely did.

But in the end, he was found to have been staying near his hometown of Castelvetrano in western Sicily.

READ ALSO: Police arrest dozens in major raid on Italy’s youngest mafia

Preparations are already under way for his burial in the family tomb in the town, alongside his father, Don Ciccio, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Don Ciccio was also head of the local clan. He was said to have died of a heart attack while on the run, his body left in the countryside, dressed for the funeral.

Investigators had been combing the Sicilian countryside for Messina Denaro for years, searching for hideouts and wiretapping members of his family and his friends.

They were heard discussing the medical problems of an unnamed person who suffered from cancer, as well as eye problems – a person who detectives became sure was Messina Denaro.

They used a national health system database to search for male patients of the right age and medical history, and eventually closed in.