Mob chiefs reeling as crime war now global
Published 09/03/2011 | 05:00
DOZENS of suspected gangsters allegedly belonging to Italy's most powerful mafia organisation were arrested yesterday in a massive police operation spanning three continents.
Police swooped on dozens of people in Italy and Germany. Arrest warrants were issued for others in Canada and Australia, including a former mayor.
The 41 suspects are all alleged members of the 'Ndrangheta, the organisation based in Calabria that is now considered to be more powerful than the Cosa Nostra of neighbouring Sicily.
Police said the extent of the operation showed how the 'Ndrangheta had spread beyond its provincial roots to become one of the world's most effective cocaine-trafficking networks.
Although it operates on an increasingly global basis, its most far-flung cells remain loyal to bosses in Calabria.
Giuseppe Pignatone, a prosecutor in Reggio Calabria, the regional capital of Calabria, said: "The foreign groups always maintain contact with the centre of operations, which is the Reggio Calabria area.
"They periodically come to take their orders, directives and long-term strategies, as well as give an account of what's going on. The fulcrum remains Calabria."
The 'Ndrangheta -- which means "virtue" in the local dialect -- makes billions of euro a year trafficking cocaine around the world from South America.
Officers arrested 31 suspects in Italy, while a further six -- all Italian citizens -- were apprehended in Germany, near Konstanz on the border with Switzerland and in the state of Hesse to the north. They are expected to be extradited to Italy.
Arrest warrants were issued for three more alleged mafiosi in Toronto and one in western Australia.
The Australian suspect was named as Tony Vallelonga, a former mayor of Stirling, a suburb of Perth with a population of 200,000, who emigrated from Calabria 30 years ago.
Among those picked up in Italy was Francesco Maisano (46), an alleged boss.
The arrests stemmed from a wiretapping operation by Italian police in which they recorded a senior mafia suspect, Giuseppe Commisso, whose nickname in the Italian dialect is "u mastru" or "the master".
He allegedly issued orders from his Calabrian dry-cleaning shop to lieutenants around the world.
Those arrested could be charged with a variety of offences ranging from drug trafficking, money laundering and protection rackets to possession of firearms.
The operation was a follow-up to a raid in Italy last July, in which more than 300 alleged 'Ndrangheta members were arrested.
The growing influence of the 'Ndrangheta was underlined by the recent release by WikiLeaks of a confidential cable from an American diplomat in Rome.
The envoy claimed that the criminal group's hold on Calabria was so pervasive that the region would be considered to be a failed state if it were not a part of Italy.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)