Police across Europe and South America arrested more than 100 people Wednesday in a wave of raids on one of Italy’s most notorious organized crime groups.
A total of 132 people were arrested across 10 countries, in a huge and complex operation involving 2,770 officers, the international policing agency of the European Union, said in a statement.
“Members of one of the world’s most powerful criminal networks have been taken into custody,” Europol said, describing Wednesday’s operation as the “largest-ever coordinated hit” against the ‘ndrangheta, arguably the world’s richest organized crime group.
“The mafia-style organization is responsible for much of Europe’s cocaine trade, combined with systematic money laundering, bribery, and violence,” Europol said.
The Carabinieri, a branch of Italian law enforcement, said it arrested 108 people on charges including international drug trafficking, money laundering and weapons possession.
Arrests were also carried out in Germany, Belgium, France, Portugal, Romania and Spain, as well as in Brazil and Panama.
Authorities have been waging an intense campaign against the ’ndrangheta in recent years, in a huge multinational police operation that has made a string of arrests.
In 2021, some 350 suspects went on trial in a specially-built courthouse in the Calabria region, the group’s heartland, with prosecutors submitting 15,000 pages of evidence.
The region in the “toe” of Italy has long been associated with organized crime.
In February, French police arrested mafia hitman Edgardo Greco, 63, who had links to the ‘ndrangheta group and spent 16 years on the run after being convicted of killing two people in the 1990s. He had been working in a pizza restaurant in France under an assumed identity.
In January, Italian police arrested the most wanted man in the country, mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, who had spent three decades on the run. He is suspected to have been the leader of the Cosa Nostra crime group and was apprehended as he went to a medical clinic in Palermo on the island of Sicily.
The investigation that prompted Wednesday’s arrests centered on several powerful San Luca, Calabria-based families, which Europol said have been waging an interfamily feud for years, leading to fatal shootings in Italy and Germany.
The crime group was responsible for trafficking drugs from South America to Europe, the agency said, as well as smuggling guns from Pakistan to South America.
The investigation also uncovered an “extensive global money laundering system, with massive investments in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil,” Europol said.
The operation was led by officers in Reggio Calabria, a city in the Calabria region.
Italian police released a video showing items seized, including gold bars, handguns, assault rifles and stacks of cash.
Bavarian police spokesman Ludwig Waldinger told the Reuters news agency that officers in Munich raided a car wash that was being used as a front for criminal activity.
Some 500 officers took part in raids in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate in western Germany. Another 500 emergency services personnel were involved in searching 51 addresses in neighboring North Rhine-Westphalia to the north.
An unnamed 47-year-old man was arrested in the city of Saarbrücken, Germany’s southern border with France, in an operation involving 30 special police units and riot police. Both his house and business premises were searched, prosecutors said.
Claudio Lavanga, Andy Eckardt and Associated Press contributed.