132 members of one of the world’s most powerful criminal networks have been arrested during a collaborative day of action carried out by 10 countries. Early on 3 May, police authorities in Belgium, Germany, Italy, France, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Romania, Brazil and Panama raided a number of locations and seized several companies. More than 2,770 agents were on the ground during the massive operation.
Eurojust and Europol supported this international operation against the ‘Ndrangheta, which has become the biggest success involving the Italian crime syndicate to date. The mafia organisation is responsible for much of the cocaine trade in Europe, combined with systematic money laundering, bribery and violence.
The criminal network under investigation was led by several powerful ‘Ndrangheta families based mainly in the Italian province of Reggio Calabria, in the city of San Luca, more precisely. Some of these families have been involved in decades-long clan violence known as the ‘San Luca feud’, which has led to mass shootings in Italy and abroad such as, for example, the 2007 Duisburg massacre in Germany.
In addition to being members of a mafia organisation, some of the criminal network’s members were also behind criminal conspiracies involving drug trafficking, illegal possession of firearms, trafficking illegally obtained firearms, money laundering, fraudulent asset registration, tax fraud, and tax evasion, as well as aiding and abetting fugitives (who have since been detained). Two of these fugitives had been on the European Union’s most wanted list.
The Italian criminal network mainly engaged in international drug trafficking from South America to Europe, as well as to Australia. Authorities discovered that the network was working in collaboration with the Colombian organised crime group Gulf Clan and an Albanian-speaking criminal group operating in Ecuador and several European countries.
In addition, ‘Ndrangheta clans were involved in international firearms trafficking from Pakistan to South America, providing equipment to the notorious criminal group PCC (Primeiro Comando da Capital) in exchange for cocaine shipments. Investigators tracked the flow of money in an extensive global money laundering scheme, with massive investments in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.
The criminal group was investing profits in real estate, restaurants, hotels, car washes, supermarkets and other commercial activities. The criminals often relied on facilitators who used the hawala system to pay for cocaine or transfer illicit assets.
Eurojust supported the police authorities involved by setting up and financing two joint investigation teams. The agency also hosted ten coordination meetings after setting up a centre to enable rapid cooperation between the judicial authorities involved in the day of action. Three cases linked to Eurojust were opened at the request of Italian, German and Belgian authorities. Eurojust also facilitated the transmission and execution of European investigation orders.
Europol’s Italian organised crime analysis project supported the investigation as a priority case and provided cross-matching reports to the national research units involved. In total, more than 200 SIENA messages were exchanged between involved parties. In addition to supporting the investigation itself, the analysis project also supported the investigation of the three fugitives.