12/5/2018 9:59:00 AM Massive European sting cracks down on Italian mob Sting largest of its kind in Europe; in Sicily nearly four dozen mafia arrested
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) today in a series of coordinated raids targeting a powerful branch of the Italian mafia.
The raids were the culmination of an investigation codenamed 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 coordinated the operation.
Eurojust said the massive operation was the biggest of its kind in Europe. Some 4 tons 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.
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 cooperation between European police forces coordinated 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.”
Italian authorities said Tuesday they had dismantled the rebuilt upper echelons of the Mafia in the Sicilian capital by arresting 46 people, including the man presumed to have taken over as provincial kingpin after the death of "boss of bosses" Salvatore "Toto" Riina.
Based on wiretaps, police determined that Settimo Mineo was elected head of a reconstructed "cupola," or provincial mob commission, during a May 29 meeting of clan leaders in Palermo. It was the first time clan leaders had gathered in such a forum for years, and followed Riina's November 2017 death, prosecutors said.
Italy's chief anti-Mafia prosecutor, Federico Cafiero de Raho, said the election of Mineo, 80, was significant because it showed that the center of power of Cosa Nostra had shifted to Palermo. Under Riina, its longtime base was Corleone, the Sicilian town made famous by writer Mario Puzo when he used Corleone as the main character's name in his 1969 novel "The Godfather."
Police recalled that the "provincial commission" structure was created in the 1950s as the decision-making forum for Sicilian and U.S. Mafia families. During the 1980s, it became less collegial under Riina's domination and effectively ceased to function after his 1993 arrest.
Prosecutors say Mineo effectively tried to resurrect the structure in the province of Palermo and return to the rules governing territory and communication that had previously dictated dealings among mob clans.
Palermo prosecutor Francesco Lo Voi said Mineo had already served a lengthy prison sentence for Mafia association and other crimes after he was swept up in the maxi-trials against the Sicilian Mafia in the 1980s and '90s. As the eldest of the local clan leaders, he enjoyed particular respect, he said.
"This is a sign that Cosa Nostra doesn't abandon its rules," Lo Voi told a press conference. "And that despite the convictions, despite the trials, important people can take over the most important roles once they're back in play."
Those arrested are suspected of mafia association, extortion, weapons violations and other charges, police said.
After Riina's 1993 arrest, the Sicilian Mafia saw a degree of marginalization compared with the Calabrian-based 'ndrangheta organized crime syndicate or the Neapolitan Camorra. But Italian officials said it nevertheless continued increasing its financial and business activities, and even started doing deals with the other southern syndicates.
"This is what emerges from the other investigations, that apparently facing this kind of situation, Palermo could not stay behind and not share with all the bosses what was to be the plan," Cafiero De Raho said.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini called the sweep in Palermo an "extraordinary operation." Salvini said in a tweet that it had "dismantled the new 'cupola' of Cosa Nostra."