Police Target ‘Ndrangheta Italian Mafia in Raids Across Europe

December 5, 2018 Updated: December 5, 2018

Law enforcement agents are conducting coordinated raids in Germany, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands in a crackdown on an Italian mob accused of global-scale cocaine trafficking, money laundering, bribery, and violence.

Hundreds of police are understood to be involved in the operation in Belgium, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands.

“Today’s action, code named ‘Pollino’, is the result of an intensive joint investigation that started in 2016 and has been coordinated at European level,” said Eurojust in a statement.

Eurojust press conference
Officials speak at a press conference detailing ‘Operation Pollino,’ a coordinated effort to fight organized crime in Europe, in The Hague, Netherlands, on Dec. 5, 2018. (Eurojust)

Eurojust, the EU’s Judicial Cooperation Unit, is a unit established to fight cross-border organized crime in Europe.

Italian police said there have been at least 90 arrests, the BBC reported, but the operation is still ongoing elsewhere.

German federal police said in a statement on Dec. 5 that there had been multiple arrests in the early morning raids on premises linked to the ‘Ndrangheta, a southern Italy-based organized crime group.

“In Germany, we’re talking about 47 suspects at the moment, and we have searched 65 premises,” said German prosecutor Horst Bien, at a Dec. 5 press conference in The Hague, organized by Eurojust.

Eurojust press conference
Law enforcement and judicial officials speak at a press conference organized by Eurojust in The Hague, Netherlands, on Dec. 5, 2018. (Eurojust)

Kris Vandepaer, a Belgian Federal Police director, said law enforcement agents in Belgium had carried out over a dozen “high-risk raids” and did so “without a single incident.”

Giovanni Bombardieri, an Italian prosecutor, said that “sophisticated investigative techniques” were used to monitor the crime group’s operations and communications, and characterized the violence linked to ‘Ndrangheta as tantamount to “carnage.”

Italian prosecutor speaks at press conference
Giovanni Bombardieri, an Italian prosecutor, speaks at the Eurojust press conference in The Hague, Netherlands, on Dec. 5, 2018. (Eurojust)

More Powerful Than Sicilian Mafia

The ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate, which comes from Italy’s Calabria region, is widely believed to be the most powerful Italian mafia organization, with massive rackets in money laundering and cocaine dealing.

‘Ndrangheta is thought to control as much as 80 percent of the cocaine trade in Europe, according to the BBC, and boasts around 6,000 members.

“They are in charge of drug trafficking in Germany, and they launder money by reinvesting it in legitimate businesses like restaurants,” said Christian Hoppe, chief criminal director of Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office.

Hoppe said the crime organization’s drug trafficking operations are extensive and sophisticated, with the use of “human money mules and vehicles with special hiding compartments.”

He cited a recent drug bust linked to ‘Ndrangheta in the Belgian city of Antwerp, resulting in the seizure of 3.5 tons of cocaine.

Eurojust official speaks
Federico Cafiero De Raho, a prosecutor in Italy, told the press conference the investigation would continue, in The Hague, Netherlands, on Dec. 5, 2018. (Eurojust)

Federico Cafiero De Raho, a prosecutor in Italy, told the press conference that every year about 1.5 tons of cocaine are seized in just a single port in Italy, and said that ‘Ndrangheta’s smuggling operations in other European ports, such as Rotterdam and Antwerp, amount to “tons and tons of cocaine.”

Bombardieri added that the crime syndicate is not confined to Europe, but it has operations elsewhere in the world, including the United States, Canada, and Australia.

He said that fighting organized crime across state lines “requires judicial instruments like the ones used in this occasion in Europe, which allowed us to coordinate our regulations, and enabled us to counter ‘Ndrangheta.”

Cafiero De Raho said the raids are just one stage in a long-term fight against organized crime.

“This is just a first step,” said Cafiero De Raho, adding, “Currently in Italy, we have 25 billion euros in assets that have been seized from ‘Ndrangheta and other criminal organizations, and probably there will be another 25 billion seized.”

He said that members of the mafia establish sophisticated networks with links to legitimate businesses and institutions in order to hide their criminal activity.

“They infiltrate these organizations secretly,” Cafiero De Raho said. “They sit around the table with respected professionals in reputed institutions, unbeknownst to them … [and that is why] we expect the development of an investigation that is constant and ongoing.”

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