43 members of the criminal network ‘Ndrangheta were arrested in the early hours of 27 June in a joint operation supported by Europol and Eurojust. Over 1 000 officers from Italian, German and Austrian law enforcement authorities cracked down on members of the Italian criminal network based in Crotone, a city in the Italian province of Calabria. Among the detainees, who are predominantly of Italian nationality and include German and Austrian nationals, is a High-Value Target believed to be a key player in this particular criminal structure. 16 companies, 25 real-estate properties and 15 vehicles worth over EUR 5 million were seized during the operation. The joint law enforcement operation saw the deployment of special forces, drones, canine units and several helicopters.
Investigators found that the suspects engaged in an alarming variety of criminal activities including:
- the corruption of local politicians;
- manipulation of elections;
- instalment of confidants in crucial administrative positions;
- collusion in public procurement tender procedures;
- murder, violence and extortion;
- fraud and money laundering;
- illicit waste trafficking;
- criminal conspiracy with other criminal organisations.
Poly-criminal network abusing public offices
Based on the evidence collected during the joint investigation, this particular branch of the ‘Ndrangheta mafia was able to manipulate local elections in Calabria. ‘Ndrangheta installed its members in crucial administrative and political positions in order to control and exploit the territory. Extortion and violence were part of the clan’s modus operandi. In order to impose the syndicate’s authority, its kingpin even ordered a homicide in 2014.
The criminal network was able to influence public procurement procedures in Italy, which resulted in taking advantage of at least EUR 3 million in European Union funds. Investigators proved that the criminals were able to set up complex worldwide money laundering schemes through key facilitators, such as hackers. German hackers were able to defraud the banking system and operate in clandestine trading platforms in order to launder illicit assets. Proceeds from the criminal enterprise were also laundered through connections in greengrocers, restaurants, gambling establishments, as well as security, transportation, construction and real estate industries respectively.
Europol supported the investigators by sharing multiple cross-match reports and facilitating the exchange of communication between numerous Member States and third parties. Furthermore, Europol promoted and supported operational meetings and took part in coordination meetings held at Eurojust, which set up the Joint Investigation Team between the participating countries. The investigation was supported by the EU-funded Project ISF4@ON, an Italian-led initiative to tackle mafia-type organised crime groups active in Europe.