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Police in Europe and Latin America Crack Down on Italian Mafia Group

Police in several countries in Europe and Latin America carried out raids and arrests on Wednesday in a huge crackdown on an international drug trafficking ring allegedly run by one of Italy’s powerful mafia groups. Thousands of law enforcement officers in Italy, Germany, Belgium and other European countries seized 23 tonnes of cocaine worth €2.5bn and arrested 150 people. Raids also took place in Brazil and Panama, according to law enforcement agencies. The unprecedented, co-ordinated action across continents targeted offices and businesses suspected to be fronts for the ’Ndrangheta, a mafia group that originated in Italy’s southern Calabria province but has spread its tentacles across the globe. According to the law enforcement agencies, the criminal organisation was involved in drug traffic from South America to Europe and Australia. It also facilitated arms deliveries from Pakistan to South America, delivering weapons in exchange for shipping drugs. Investigators said the ’Ndrangheta had been laundering proceeds of its drug trade by investing it in legitimate businesses across Europe and in Latin American countries, including restaurants, real estate, hotels, ice cream shops, car wash companies and grocery chains. Eric Van Duyse, spokesperson for the Belgian prosecutor, spoke of a “direct link between the drug money and the lawful economy”. “It is not big pipelines that channel the money, it’s a multitude of small organisations, sometimes at the family level, that are so diverse that it’s almost invisible,” Van Duyse added. The crackdown was the culmination of a painstaking investigation that began in 2018 based on a tip-off in the Belgian border region of Limburg, which later led to the ’Ndrangheta, according to Belgian authorities. Those arrested included people “at the highest levels of the ’Ndrangheta”, Van Duyse said. The groups often used the hawala system, an underground international money transfer network that relies on trusted intermediaries, in order to transfer money for illicit goods, investigators said. Italian police said that the probe involved decoding encrypted communications on mobile phones and other secure communications channels. Of those taken into custody on Wednesday, 13 were detained in Belgium, 29 in Germany and 108 in Italy, according to various police statements. In the port of Genoa, Italian authorities said they had arrested 15 people, including a Croatian and a Serbian who allegedly served as intermediaries between Colombian drug traffickers and the ’Ndrangheta. Italian police said they had observed numerous shipments of drugs into the country between 2020 and March 2021, including shipments from Spain.

Source : The Financial Times