Police in Italy have broken up a ring of drug traffickers who imported huge quantities of cocaine into the country from South America.
In cooperation with law enforcement officers from Spain and the FBI, Italian detectives arrested multiple suspects after a series of raids in Reggio Calabria, Milan, Naples, Bologna and Pescara, the Italian state police said in a statement.
During the operation, officers held several people with links to the Morabito-Bruzzanti-Palamara group, which oversees a unit of the notorious Ndrangheta Calabrian mafia. Police issued arrest warrants for 37 suspects alleged to have played key roles in the international trafficking racket.
The organised crime group is believed to have been operating in Italy, Spain, Colombia, Peru and the Dominican Republic.
During a raid at Madrid’s Barajas international airport, police sized 35kgs of cocaine that had been shipped in from Colombia. An unspecified amount of narcotics were impounded in other raids that formed part of the investigation, dubbed Operation Buena Ventura.
Federico Cafiero De Raho, Reggio Calabria chief prosecutor, said in a statement that the gang distributed drugs around Italy, and throughout Europe.
A statement from Italian police said: “[This operation] demonstrates the particular strength and capacity of Calabrian cartels in agreements with Colombian drug traffickers to import [into] Calabria a large amount of cocaine destined to [for] distribution in several Italian provinces and Europe.”
Anti-mafia police identified 45-year-old Michael Galantino as one of the “organisers, promoters and lenders” of the trafficking group. He was arrested in the city of Bologna, alongside a number of associates. Massimiliano Bortone, 45, and Christian Alberoni, 41, also from Bologna, were also detained.
The gang is said to have smuggled drugs into Italy concealed in shipments of frozen fish and crates of vegetables. In addition, the organisation allegedly bribed customs officials at airports across Italy to turn a blind eye to couriers entering the country with cocaine stuffed inside their luggage.
“This is an important operation,” de Raho said. “It continues the fight against drug trafficking. And it managed to target and sever the direct contact between several suspects linked to the Morabito-Bruzzanti-Palamara clan and [South American] drugs cartels.”
While not as well known internationally as the Sicilian mafia, the Ndrangheta has been the wealthiest and most powerful mafia clan in Italy since the turn of the century. In 2014, a study conducted by the Demoskopika Research Institute in Rome revealed that the clan had an annual turnover of some €53 billion, and were bringing in more money than McDonald’s and Deutsche Bank combined.
In December, six members of the Bonavota offshoot of the Ndrangheta clam were arrested in an operation that prosecutors claimed had wiped out the leadership of the clan. The six were charged with a series of offences, including malicious damage, murder, extortion, mafia conspiracy and possession of illegal weapons.