Politicians and businessmen arrested in mafia raids in Italy
21st January 2021

Politicians, businessmen and ‘first-level bosses’ among 48 arrested in fresh blitz on ‘Ndrangheta crime family in Italy

  • Italy’s anti-mafia DIA raided homes this morning in Calabria’s city of Catanzaro
  • Police say they jailed 13 individuals and placed a further 35 under house arrest 
  • Among the arrests were a top Italian politician and prominent entrepreneurs  

Italy’s anti-mafia police arrested politicians, white-collar workers and ‘first-level’ bosses in early-morning raids today on the ‘Ndrangheta crime family.

The pre-dawn blitz dubbed ‘Low Profile’ by Italy’s anti-mafia squad – the Direzione Investigativa AntiMafia (DIA) – targeted mobsters and individuals accused of aiding the crime syndicate’s illegal activities in the city of Catanzaro, Calabria.  

During the operation, 13 people were jailed and 35 were placed under house arrest, local media reported. 

Among the arrests were mafiosi holding the position of capo (captain) in the organisation, politicians, prominent entrepreneurs, and suspects in public administration roles. 

The arrests come as 355 members of the ‘Ndrangheta crime family stand as defendants in a ‘Maxi trial’ in the southern town of Lamezia Terme.  

Images released by Italy’s anti-Mafia squad, the DIA, show law enforcement vehicles heading out on raids early this morning . Thirteen individuals were jailed and a further 43 put under house arrest in the operation, dubbed ‘low profile’ by investigators 

A photo handout on January 21, 2021 by the Anti-Mafia directorate of Catanzaro in Calabria shows banknotes and items stored in a safe, seized by authorities following an anti-mafia raid on January 21, 2021 in Catanzaro

The ‘Ndrangheta, which is now considered the most powerful Mafia in Italy, has expanded well beyond its traditional domains of drug trafficking and loan sharking. 

The crime syndicate uses shell companies and front-men to reinvest illegal gains in the legitimate economy. 

In many parts of Calabria, it has infiltrated practically all areas of public life, from city hall and hospitals, to cemeteries and even the courts, experts say. 

According to La Repubblica, the Rome residence of Lorenzo Cesa, former MEP and secretary of Italy’s Christian Union of the Centre party, was searched this morning by members of the DIA. 

Shortly after, Cesa announced his resignation from the party in a statement.

‘I have received notification that I am under investigation for events dating back to 2017,’ he said.

Secretary of Italy’s Union of the Centre party, Lorenzo Cesa (pictured in Campania in 2016), was arrested in connection with helping the ‘Ndrangheta

‘I consider myself to be totally innocent and I will ask, via my lawyers, to speak to the competent prosecutors as soon as possible.

‘As always, I have full and total faith in the judiciary.

‘And given the particular period the country is going through, I resign as national secretary (of the UDC) with immediate effect’.      

Cesa’s colleague, Calabria’s budget chief, UDC member Franco Talarico, was also placed under house arrest, ANSA reported. 

Investigators uncovered that over three million euros was moved between a web of suspects. 

The Public Prosecutor’s Office of Catanzaro executed seizures of a ‘significant’ value of assets, including real estate, vehicles, bank and postal current accounts.

The assets seized during the ‘low-profile’ operation will be returned to the state coffers, said Nicola Morra, the president of the parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission. 

News of the raids come as a ‘Maxi trial’, expected to go on for a year, continues in the southern Calabrian town of Lamezia Terme. 

Italy’s largest Mafia trial in more than 30 years opened Wednesday as more than 350 suspects face a judge in a specially courtroom (pictured) in the southern Calabrian town of Lamezia Terme, in the heart of ‘Ndrangheta territory

Anti-mob prosecutor Nicola Gratteri (centre) said it was an ‘important day’, telling reporters outside court that the trial would ‘give the idea of what the Calabrian Mafia is today – no longer a Mafia of shepherds dedicated to kidnapping, but a major criminal corporation’

The trial, expected to last at least a year and likely longer, features 355 defendants, more than 900 prosecution witnesses, and an unprecedented number of collaborators, given the close family ties within the ‘Ndrangheta that discourage turncoats. 

In Italy, so-called ‘maxi-trials,’ which include scores of defendants and countless charges, are seen as the best judicial resource against the country’s various organised crime groups, of which the ‘Ndrangheta is now considered the most powerful, controlling the bulk of cocaine flowing into Europe.

The most famous ‘maxi-trial’ of 1986-7 dealt a major blow to Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, resulting in 338 guilty verdicts, but prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were later assassinated by the mob.          

Authorities believe there are some 150 ‘Ndrangheta families in Calabria and at least 6,000 members and affiliates in the region. That swells to thousands worldwide, although estimates are unreliable.

How the ‘Ndrangheta cocaine crime network extends around the world

In December 2019 an operation targeted the ‘Ndrangheta families based in the southern Italian city of Locri in the Calabria region – the rural, mountainous and under-developed ‘toe’ of Italy’s boot and the heartland of the worldwide crime group. 

As a result of the swoop, Italian police arrested 334 people, including a police colonel and a former MP from Silvio Berlusconi’s party. 

Despite intense police attention and frequent arrests, the ‘Ndrangheta – which derives its meaning from the Greek word for ‘heroism’ – has continued to extend its reach. 

Notoriously ruthless, the ‘Ndrangheta has surpassed Sicily’s Cosa Nostra and the Naples-based Camorra to operate on all continents thanks to the wealth it has amassed as the principal importer and wholesaler of cocaine produced in Latin America and smuggled into Europe via north Africa and southern Italy.

That trade is worth billions and previous police operations have indicated that the ‘Ndrangheta has well-established links with Colombian producer cartels, Mexican crime gangs and Mafia families in New York and other parts of North America.

In 2016, a suspected ‘Ndrangheta boss, Ernesto Fazzalari (left), was arrested after two decades on the run, fleeing a life sentence for murder. A year later, another suspected boss of the crime clan, Santo Vottari (right), was detained in Calabria having been on the run for a decade

The organisation’s tight clan-based structure has made it hard to penetrate but police have made some in roads in recent years. 

In 2015, 163 people were arrested in a major crackdown on the notorious mafia gang, which by that time had become the most powerful crime organisation in the country.

In another sting that year, police snatched assets worth £1.4billion from the ‘Ndrangheta, which included more than 1,500 betting shops, 82 online gambling sites and almost 60 companies.  

In 2016, one of Italy’s most wanted mafia bosses Ernesto Fazzalari was arrested after two decades on the run, fleeing a life sentence for murder. 

The ‘Ndrangheta member was captured in an apartment in a remote part of the southern region of Calabria.

On the run since 1996, he was convicted in absentia in 1999 of mafia association, kidnapping, illegal possession of weapons and a double homicide linked to a bloody 1989-91 feud which left 32 people dead in his home town of Taurianova.

His arrest was hailed by the government as a significant victory for the state in its battle against the powerful mafia group.

In 2018, another suspected boss of the crime clan, Santo Vottari, was detained in Calabria having been on the run for a decade.

He was arrested hiding behind a trap door of a bunker having gone to ground over a 2007 massacre in Germany.  

Vottari was convicted in absentia in 2009 of being one of the heads of an ‘Ndrangheta clan whose feud with local rivals culminated in the Duisburg killings.

He was given a prison term of 10 years and eight months, two years after he went on the run.

Vottari was one of 31 people sentenced to prison terms in 2009 in connection with the Duisburg killings, which happened after a vendetta between two clans based in the same village, San Luca, spiralled out of control.

The feud between the Nirta-Strangio and Pelle-Vottari clans reportedly began with an egg-throwing prank in 1991. 

Reprisals escalated after the killing, on Christmas Day, 2006, of Maria Strangio, the wife of clan leader Giovanni Nirta.

The feud was blamed for at least 16 deaths in total, with the killings in Germany bringing it to international attention.

Giovanni Strangio was convicted in 2011 of being the mastermind and one of the authors of the Duisburg killings.

He was sentenced to life in prison. Seven others were given life sentences linked to the feud at the same trial.

Notoriously ruthless, the ‘Ndrangheta has surpassed Sicily’s Cosa Nostra and the Naples-based Camorra in influence thanks to its control of Europe’s cocaine trade.

The organisation is made up of numerous village and family-based clans based in the rural, mountainous and under-developed ‘toe’ of Italy’s boot.

The name ‘Ndrangheta comes from the Greek for courage or loyalty and the organisation’s secretive culture and brutal enforcement of codes of silence have made it very difficult to penetrate.

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