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In raids against the ‘Ndrangheta mafia across Europe, police detain 130 people.

Photo by Ayo Ogunseinde on Unsplash

Police have arrested more than 130 people in coordinated raids in half a dozen European countries as part of a crackdown targeting the Italian ’Ndrangheta organised crime syndicate, prosecutors and police have said.

The suspects are mostly accused of money laundering, criminal tax evasion, fraud, drug possession, production and smuggling, mafia-type criminal association and the possession and trafficking of weapons, authorities in Germany said on Wednesday.

Carabinieri officers in Italy made 108 arrests across the country after an investigation based in the southern region of Calabria, the historic base of the ’Ndrangheta, which has overtaken Sicily’s Cosa Nostra as Italy’s most powerful and wealthy mafia and controls the bulk of the cocaine flow into Europe. Eighty-five of those arrested were already in jail.

A further 15 people were detained on the police orders in the north-western Italian port of Genoa, a man was arrested in the southern Spanish city of Málaga, and about 30 more were held in Germany, where more than 1,000 police searched dozens of homes, offices, and stores in several states.

Belgian prosecutors said police raided more than 20 addresses as part of the three-year-long investigation, codenamed Eureka, which was run by national organised crime squads in Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain with the pan-European Eurojust and Europol agencies.

In Germany, the raids focused on targets in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria, Thuringia, Saarland and Rhineland-Palatinate, whose interior minister, Michael Ebling, hailed an “effective blow” against organised crime.

“Today sends a very clear signal: there is no place for organised crime in Europe,” Ebling said. Ten people were arrested in Rhineland-Palatinate, four in Bavaria and 15 in North Rhine-Westphalia. Two suspects from Saarland were arrested in Italy.

Police taskforces in each state were supported by special units from the German federal government and other states as well as officers from the customs and tax investigation departments, the DPA news agency reported.

Italian and Belgian authorities said the syndicate was suspected of smuggling nearly 25 tonnes of cocaine from South America to Europe in container ships arriving in Antwerp, Rotterdam and the Calabrian port of Gioia Tauro between October 2019 and January 2022.

Bavarian authorities said they had been investigating a woman and seven men, all Italian nationals aged between 25 and 48, since July 2020. The Munich-based group, was suspected of involvement in financing cocaine smuggling and money laundering.

More than €22m in illicit earnings was allegedly funnelled from Calabria to Belgium, the Netherlands and South America. German media said a network of restaurants, pizzerias, cafes and ice-cream parlours was suspected of laundering the money.

European authorities have been waging a long-running campaign against the ’Ndrangheta, one of the world’s richest organised crime groups, which has exploited its vast cocaine revenues to extend its reach across Europe and beyond and is believed to operate in more than 40 countries.

Belgian media reported that the trigger for the investigation was the discovery by police in 2019 that the owners of a pizzeria in the town of Genk, who had relatives in Munich, were allegedly in frequent contact with known ‘Ndrangheta cocaine dealers.

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