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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Italy’s Liguria regional president arrested in corruption probe

The president of Italy's northwest Liguria region and the ex-head of Genoa's port were among 10 arrested on Tuesday in a sweeping anti-corruption investigation which also targeted officials for alleged mafia ties.

Italy's Liguria regional president arrested in corruption probe

Liguria President Giovanni Toti, a right-wing former MEP who was close to late prime minister Silvio Berlusconi but is no longer party aligned, was placed under house arrest, Genoa prosecutors said in a statement.

The 55-year-old is accused of having accepted 74,100 euros in funds for his election campaign between December 2021 and March 2023 from prominent local businessmen, Aldo Spinelli and his son Roberto Spinelli, in return for various favours.

These allegedly included seeking to privatise a public beach and speeding up the renewal for 30 years of the lease of a Genoa port terminal to a Spinelli family-controlled company, which was approved in December 2021.

A total of 10 people were targeted in the probe, also including Paolo Emilio Signorini, who stepped down last year as head of the Genoa Port Authority, one of the largest in Italy. He was being held in jail on Tuesday.

He is accused of having accepted from Aldo Spinelli benefits including cash, 22 stays in a luxury hotel in Monte Carlo – complete with casino chips, massages and beauty treatments – and luxury items including a 7,200-euro Cartier bracelet.

The ex-port boss, who went on to lead energy group Iren, was also promised a 300,000-euro-a-year job when his tenure expires, prosecutors said.

In return, Signorini was said to have granted Aldo Spinelli favours including also working to speed up the renewal of the family’s port concession.

The Spinellis are themselves accused of corruption, with Aldo – an ex-president of the Genoa and Livorno football clubs – placed under house arrest and his son Roberto temporarily banned from conducting business dealings.

In a separate strand of the investigation, Toti’s chief of staff, Matteo Cozzani, was placed under house arrest accused of “electoral corruption” which facilitated the activities of Sicily’s Cosa Nostra Mafia.

As regional coordinator during local elections in 2020, he was accused of promising jobs and public housing in return for the votes of at least 400 Sicilian residents of Genoa.