Crackdown on Italian mob prompts dozens of arrests in Europe

Hundreds of police in Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands arrested at least 84 suspected mobsters and seized around 2 million euros ($3 million Cdn) in a series of co-ordinated raids targeting a powerful branch of the Italian Mafia.

Operation comes a day after Italian police arrest suspected new head of Sicilian Mafia

Masked police stand in an ice parlor in Duisburg, western Germany, on Wednesday as authorities conduct co-ordinated raids in Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands in a crackdown on the Italian Mafia. (Christoph Reichwein/dpa via Associated Press)

Hundreds of police in Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands arrested at least 84 suspected mobsters and seized around two million euros ($3 million Cdn) on Wednesday in a series of co-ordinated raids targeting a powerful branch of the Italian Mafia.

The raids were the culmination of an investigation code named Pollino that was launched in 2016 against the 'Ndrangheta criminal group on allegations of cocaine trafficking, money laundering, bribery and violence, said Eurojust, the European prosecution agency that fights cross-border organized crime, which co-ordinated the operation.

Eurojust said the massive operation was the biggest of its kind in Europe. Some 3.6 tonnes of cocaine were traced during the two-year joint investigation. Cocaine and ecstasy pills also were seized in Wednesday's raids.

"Today we send a clear message to organized 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.

Scratching the surface

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 were detained just over the border in Belgium.

Italian police hailed the co-operation between European police forces co-ordinated by Eurojust, saying it was an important new crime-fighting tactic that allowed investigators in different countries to share information in real time.

But Federico Cafiero De Raho, Italian anti-Mafia and anti-terrorism national prosecutor, also sounded a note of caution, saying that the raids only scratched the surface of the powerful 'ndrangheta, whose tentacles and illicit activities spread all over the world.

Speaking in The Hague, 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."

Wednesday's operation came a day after Italian police arrested the suspected new head of the Sicilian Mafia and 45 other alleged gangsters, dealing a major blow to the mob as it tried to rebuild after years of setbacks. 

With files from Reuters