Masked police stand in an ice parlor in Duisburg, western Germany, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018 as authorities conduct coordinated raids in Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands in a crackdown on the Italian mafia. (Christoph Reichwein/dpa via AP)

Police arrest 84 in European crackdown on Italian mob

December 05, 2018 - 9:24 am
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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Hundreds of police in Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands arrested at least 84 suspected mobsters and seized around 2 million euros ($2.3 million) Wednesday in a series of coordinated raids targeting a powerful Italian organized crime syndicate.

"Today we send a clear message to organized crime groups across Europe," said Filippo Spiezia, vice president of Eurojust, the EU prosecution agency that coordinated the raids. "They are not the only ones able to operate across borders; so are Europe's judiciary and law enforcement communities."

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 Mafia in the Sicilian capital of Palermo by arresting 46 people, including the man presumed to have taken over as provincial kingpin.

Wednesday's raids were the culmination of a two-year investigation codenamed Pollino against the powerful 'ndrangheta criminal group on allegations of cocaine trafficking, money laundering, bribery and violence, said Eurojust.

The 'ndrangheta is Italy's most powerful criminal organization, eclipsing by far Sicily's Cosa Nostra or the Naples area Camorra.

The Hague-based agency said the massive probe was the biggest of its kind in Europe. Some 4 tons of cocaine were traced during the investigation. Cocaine and ecstasy pills also were seized in Wednesday's raids.

Italian police hailed the cooperation between European police forces and Eurojust's coordination, saying it was an important new crime-fighting tactic that allowed investigators in different countries to share information in real time.

But Italy's top Mafia prosecutor, Federico Cafiero De Raho, also sounded a note of caution, saying the raids only scratched the surface of the powerful 'ndrangheta, whose tentacles and illicit activities, including huge cocaine trafficking operations, were spread all over the world.

Speaking in The Hague, Cafiero 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."

A leading expert on the 'ndrangheta, Catanzaro-based Prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, recently said the Calabrian-based 'ndrangheta syndicate has for years been buying up hotels, restaurants and other properties in Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany to both launder some of the billions of dollars it rakes in through cocaine trafficking, as well as invest that money to start "clean" businesses and earn even more revenue.

Eurojust said Italian authorities arrested 41 suspects, mainly in Calabria.

In Germany, federal police said there had been multiple arrests in the early morning raids on premises linked to the southern Italy-based organized 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 suspects were detained just over the border in Belgium.

Eurojust said those arrested Wednesday included "high-ranking members of the mafia network."

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David Rising in Berlin and Frances D'Emilio in Rome contributed to this report.

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