Police arrested more than 100 suspects, including “high value” figures, and raided homes across Europe in a campaign against the Italian organized crime syndicate ‘ndrangheta. in the organization, not only in Belgium but in other European countries,” said Belgian federal prosecutor Antoon Schotsaert.
The raid was part of an investigation that spanned Italy, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Slovenia, Romania, as well as Brazil and Panama, according to the EU’s law enforcement agency Europol.
The network mainly engaged in international drug trafficking from South America to Europe and Australia, the EU’s law enforcement agency Europol said in a statement.
In Germany, more than 1,000 agents searched dozens of homes, offices and shops in the states of Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Thuringia, prosecutors said in a joint statement.
In Italy, helicopter-backed carabinieri police issued arrest warrants for 108 people accused of, among other things, association with the mafia; possession, production and trafficking of drugs and weapons; and money laundering.
European authorities have been waging a campaign against the Calabria-based ‘drangheta, arguably the world’s richest organized crime group, in recent years. The ‘drangheta, which traces its roots to the southern Calabria region, the tip of Italy’s boot, has surpassed Cosa Nostra as the country’s most powerful mafia group and one of the world’s largest criminal networks.
The group has mined tens of billions of dollars in cocaine revenue over decades to extend its criminal reach across Europe and several continents as the Sicilian mafia lost influence.
Bavarian state police said the arrests were the result of more than three years of an investigation dubbed “Operation Eureka.”
They said Italian and Belgian investigators believe the criminal group smuggled about 25 tons of cocaine between October 2019 and January 2022 and funneled more than 22 million euros (£19.4 million) from Calabria to Belgium, the Netherlands and South America.
The ‘ndrangheta clans were also involved in arms trafficking from Pakistan to South America, supplying the Brazilian crime group PCC (Primeiro Comando da Capital) in exchange for cocaine shipments, Europol added.
In Germany, the ‘drangheta has been firmly established since the 1970s. It is considered the strongest of the Italian organized crime groups in the country and focuses mainly on international narcotics trafficking, according to the German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation. .
More than 30 suspects with outstanding warrants have been arrested in Germany.
Among other things, the suspects are charged with money laundering, gang tax evasion, gang business fraud and narcotics smuggling, according to a statement from the German state criminal investigation office in North Rhine-Westphalia.
A press release from the carabinieri in Reggio Calabria, where the ‘ndrangheta is based, said arrest warrants had also been issued in Belgium, France, Portugal, Romania and Spain. Raids were also carried out in Slovenia, German security officials said.
In Germany, the main focus of the operation was in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, with around 500 officers deployed in each state.
In North Rhine-Westphalia, 51 houses, apartments, offices and business premises were searched and 15 suspects were arrested.
In Rhineland-Palatinate, the police searched 50 premises and arrested 10 suspects.
The working groups in Rhineland-Palatinate were supported by special units of the federal government and other states, as well as the tax and customs investigation department, the German news agency dpa reported.
Interior Minister for the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, Michael Ebling, called the raids an “effective blow” against organized crime.
“Today it sends a very clear signal: there is no place for organized crime in Europe and certainly no place for it here with us in Rhineland-Palatinate,” he was quoted as saying by the dpa news agency.
Reuters contributed to this report