Italy's 'Mozzarella King' arrested over 'contaminated cheese' and mafia links
THE head of Italy's biggest producer of mozzarella cheese, nicknamed "the Mozzarella King", was arrested on Tuesday after being accused of producing contaminated cheese and receiving money from the Camorra mafia.
Giuseppe Mandara, whose mozzarella is sold across Europe, was also accused of producing batches contaminated with ceramic shards from a faulty machine.
Investigators said his Mandara Group had received significant injections of cash from the Camorra mafia, the organised crime group based in Campania, the region where mozzarella is produced.
Police seized assets worth more than €100m including the company.
They said the 56 year-old, who once described himself as the “Armani of mozzarella”, had struck up a secret commercial relationship with the Casalesi clan of the Camorra in the 1980s after he ran into financial difficulties.
The clan is based in and around the town of Casal di Principe, at the heart of a region famous for its mozzarella, which is produced from the milk of domesticated buffalo.
Police said Mr Mandara, who was photographed chomping on a cigar as he was led away by officers, was arrested on suspicion of mafia association and endangering public health. They said two tons of the company’s mozzarella may have been contaminated with minute ceramic fragments from a broken machine.
The company was also accused of passing off ordinary provolone cheese as being of a more superior quality with false labelling. Following news of his arrest, Mr Mandara was expelled from the Consortium for the Promotion of Buffalo Mozzarella after an emergency meeting of its council, which described the allegations as “very serious”.
The police operation was welcomed by Legambiente, a leading environmental organisation in Italy. “Investigations like this guarantee the protection of people’s health and safeguard one of the most important sectors of the 'made in Italy’ brand,” said Michele Buonomo, the president of Legambiente in Campania.
While mozzarella is one of Italy’s signature foods, used in everything from sandwiches and pizzas to the classic “caprese” salad, it has been hit by a number of scandals in recent years.
In 2010 the Italian authorities had to issue a Europe-wide alert over possible contamination of mozzarella after balls of the cheese turned blue.
In 2008 police investigated reports that some cheese was being made with milk contaminated by dioxins, carcinogenic chemical compounds, which had leached into the grass eaten by the buffalo as a result of the illegal dumping of toxic waste by the Camorra in the countryside around Naples.
The scare led some countries to suspend their imports of buffalo mozzarella and to Italian cheese companies placing advertisements in newspapers to try to reassure consumers that only small amounts had been affected.
Coldiretti, a national farmers’ association, said that Italy’s four mafia organisations make an estimated €12.5?billion from investments in agriculture each year. The association said mafia groups, including the Camorra, invested money made from drug dealing and prostitution.