Dozens of suspected members of the 'Ndrangheta mafia were arrested on Wednesday in co-ordinated raids as part of what is being hailed as the biggest ever European Union operation against organised crime.
The busts were part of an investigation codenamed Pollino which was launched in 2016 against the 'ndrangheta criminal group on allegations of cocaine trafficking, money laundering, bribery and violence.
Around 90 people suspected of belonging to the notorious 'Ndrangheta mafia were rounded up on Wednesday in raids across several European and Latin American countries, Italian police said.
The 'Ndrangheta - whose heartland is the southern Calabria region - is one of the three main mafia groups in Italy, along with the Sicilian mafia and the Camorra. Cocaine and ecstasy pills also were seized in the raids.
A leading expert on the 'ndrangheta, Catanzaro-based Prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, recently said the Calabrian-based 'ndrangheta syndicate has for years been buying up hotels, restaurants and other properties in Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany to both launder some of the billions of dollars it rakes in through cocaine trafficking, as well as invest that money to start "clean" businesses and earn even more revenue.More news: Hootie & the Blowfish to kick off 2019 tour with Virginia Beach stop
"It's nearly a cliche, but the operation carried out today confirms again the great danger of the 'ndrangheta, not just in drug trafficking, where it's the undisputed leader, but (also) in the financial sphere", said Francesco Ratta, a top police official in the southern Italian region of Calabria.
Federico Cafiero De Raho, Italy's chief anti-mafia prosecutor, hailed the "extraordinary nature of this operation", but warned that the organization is "extremely powerful and extremely rich", so they are far from defeated.
Early-morning raids took place in Italy, the German states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria, as well as in Belgium and the Netherlands.
In total 41 people were arrested in Italy, 21 in Germany, 14 in Belgium, five in the Netherlands and two in Luxembourg, with operations still underway, Eurojust said.
Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said they had also probed ice cream parlours, adding that together with restaurants "the suspicion is that the mafia organisation is laundering money through these establishments and they are used as a cover for their criminal organisations".More news: Huawei CFO Wanzhou Meng arrested in Vancouver, faces extradition to U.S.
Dutch outlet NOS said that the 'Ndrangheta is known to operate its drug smuggling through the country's vibrant flower-trading industry.
The Belgian operations were concentrated on the Limburg area, home to many people of Italian descent who moved there after World War II to work in coal mines, Belgian prosecutors said.
European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, who is Italian, sent "congratulations" to the police forces involved, adding: "Europe fights 'Ndrangheta criminal groups".
The Wednesday arrests came just a day after the authorities announced the arrest of Settimo Mineo, 80, the presumed new boss of the Cosa Nostra.More news: XFL announces eight teams, cities and stadiums for its return in 2020