Police completed a bust of more than 100 members of one of the world’s most powerful criminal groups on Wednesday.
Law enforcement officers across 10 countries carried out a massive operation against the secretive and powerful ‘ndrangheta criminal syndicate. The coordinated effort resulted in over 130 arrests and the seizure of several companies.
Officials say this is the largest-ever hit against this deadly group.
Most of the arrests were made in Germany and Italy, while officers also carried out raids in Belgium, France, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Romania, Brazil and Panama. Over 2,770 officers took part in this effort, according to an announcement from the European Union police agency Eurojust.
The ‘ndrangheta criminal gang is based in the Calabria region of Italy, where it controls large parts of the cocaine trade, taking over from the Sicilian Mafia. The ‘ndrangheta is highly secretive and distributed across the world, making this international operation a significant achievement.
This move against the group was not the first and follows a similar incident in December 2019, when about 2,500 Italian police officers arrested hundreds of ‘ndrangheta members, mainly in Calabria. At the time, this led to a major trial against more than 300 people, which started in January 2021 inside a heavily fortified courtroom in Calabria.
To crackdown on the power of the ‘ndrangheta, authorities needed to get access to the group’s financial system. This is where this recent operation may have had the most significant impact. The suspects were accused of charges that included fraudulent asset registration, money laundering, tax fraud and tax evasion.
Eurojust says the organization was investing in real estate, hotels, restaurants, car wash companies, supermarkets and other businesses. The ‘ndrangheta network’s financial transactions were spread across Germany, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil, making it particularly challenging to detect.
Eurojust also revealed that the south Italian mob was trading arms with a Pakistani network, which were then moved to South America in exchange for cocaine shipments destined for Europe.
The ‘ndrangheta has traded drugs mainly between South America, Europe and Australia. The San Luca group was also discovered to be working closely with the Gulf Clan, an organized crime group in Colombia, and an Albanian-speaking crime group operating in Ecuador and several European countries.
Governments across Europe have praised the operation against organized crime, with the German state interior minister, Michael Ebling, calling the raids an “effective blow” to these gangs.
The ‘ndrangheta also has a history of violent feuds. This operation targeted several families that were primarily based in the town of San Luca, which were thought to be involved in confrontations that have been taking place over several decades. One of these conflicts led to the killing of six people in Duisburg, Germany, in 2007.