More than 100 people were arrested during early morning raids on Wednesday in several European countries as part of a crackdown on the Italian 'Ndrangheta mafia. The arrests were part of a coordinated probe by investigators in Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain, German authorities said.
In Italy, the Carabinieri arrested 108 people suspected of being involved with the group, and in German, more than 1,000 officers searched dozens of homes, offices, and stores in several states. The suspects are accused of money laundering, criminal tax evasion, fraud and smuggling of drugs, mafia-type criminal association, possession and trafficking of weapons.
Codenamed Operation "Eureka," the raids came after almost four years of highly secretive investigations into the Calabrian mafia organization. The group is based in Calabria in southern Italy and is seen as one of the largest and most powerful crime syndicates in Europe.
The mafia organization is believed to have smuggled large amounts of cocaine from South America to Europe in container ships arriving in Antwerp, Rotterdam and the Calabrian port of Gioia Tauro. A part of the cocaine delivery was then sent on to Australia. In Germany, the raids were focused on targets in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria, Thuringia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland. The interior minister of Rhineland-Palatinate, Michael Ebling, called the raids an "effective blow" against organized crime. "Today sends out a very clear signal: There is no place for organized crime in Europe and there is certainly no place for it here with us in Rhineland-Palatinate," he said.
Investigators uncovered a widespread network of restaurants, pizzerias, cafes and ice cream parlors in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, suspected to be part of the mafia's money laundering operations. MDR also reported that suspected members of 'Ndrangheta were being investigated in the east German state of Thuringia. In the southern state of Bavaria, authorities said they had been investigating a woman and seven men, with Italian nationality and between the ages of 25 and 48, since July 2020. The group, living in Munich, is suspected of being involved in co-financing cocaine smuggling and money laundering. Over 30 suspects who had outstanding warrants were arrested in Germany.
According to reports, the investigations began in part after Belgian authorities uncovered a connection between a pizzeria in the town of Genk and the 'Ndrangheta mafia in 2019. The owners of the restaurant were allegedly in contact with various cocaine dealers. Police then began to look into the cousin of two of the suspects who was living in Munich. Investigations into crypto phones played a major role in leading to Wednesday's operations. Police were able to crack the crypto services EncroChat and SkyEcc, giving them a glimpse into the inner workings of the mafia organization. The 'Ndrangheta had previously avoided speaking on phones entirely, preferring to drive hundreds of miles for a meeting. But the coronavirus pandemic and the restriction on movement forced them to change tact.
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