Customs and TradeDrugsNews

Italian operation takes down corrupt port workers facilitating ‘Ndrangheta drug trafficking activities

With the support of Europol and Eurojust, the Italian Financial Corps (Guardia di Finanza) has dismantled a criminal network which relied on corrupt workers in the port of Gioia Tauro to smuggle hundreds of millions of euros’ worth of cocaine into Europe. 

Today, some three hundred police officers carried out coordinated raids against the members of this highly professional criminal syndicate linked to the ‘Ndrangheta. Property searches were carried out in the provinces of Reggio Calabria, Vibo Valentia, Bari, Naples, Rome, Terni, Vicenza, Milan and Novara, resulting so far in 31 arrests and 7 million euros worth of criminal assets being seized. 

These arrests follow a complex investigation in which over 4 tonnes of cocaine imported by the criminals have been seized, with an estimated street value exceeding EUR 800 million. 

The investigation identified a corrupt customs officer who allegedly altered the outcome of an x-ray scan performed on a container containing 300 kilos of cocaine. He is believed to have received a sum equivalent to 3 % of the value of the illicit cargo for this. 

In the framework of intelligence activities underway with Europol, the Italian investigators were also able to identify the other members of this criminal network, structured as follows:

  • Members of the ‘Ndrangheta, who would arrange for the cocaine to be shipped from South America;
  • Field coordinators, who would recruit and manage the corrupted dockers, paying them a commission varying between 7 to 20 % of the value of the illegal cargo;
  • Complicit port operators who would arrange for the ‘contaminated’ containers to not be intercepted as they were being smuggled into the port of Gioia Tauro. 

The investigation also made it possible to identify the criminal masterminds responsible for organising the massive importation of cocaine from South America to Calabria, characterised by periodic shipments of two tonnes each. These criminals feature among the suspects arrested today. 

Europol’s support was central in the development of the Italian investigation, providing tailored expertise and extensive analysis. Europol developed reliable and crucial intelligence concerning the activities of this criminal network and has been working closely with Italian investigators to bring down the whole network.

The Head of the European Serious and Organised Crime Centre at Europol, Jari Liukku, commented: 

This investigation uncovered how the ‘Ndrangheta is using corruption to enable its criminal activity and undermine law enforcement’s efforts. Europol sees the use of corruption, in the private or the public sector, as a major enabler of organised crime. In this particular investigation we are very pleased to have joined forces with the Italian Guardia di Finanza to support them in fighting large-scale drug trafficking as well as corruption at an EU entry point. In this regard this investigation sets an example. This investigation was supported by the EU-funded Project ISF4@ON, an Italian-led initiative to tackle mafia-type organised crime groups active in Europe.