Italy says top crime bosses among 300 arrested in wide anti-mob raids across Italy

By Alessandra Rizzo, AP
Tuesday, July 13, 2010

300 arrested in major anti-crime sweep in Italy

ROME — Italian police launched one of their biggest operations ever against the powerful ‘ndrangheta crime syndicate on Tuesday, arresting 300 people including top bosses and seizing millions worth of property in pre-dawn raids.

The man believed to be the ‘ndrangheta’s top boss, Domenico Oppedisano, was picked up in Rosarno, a small coastal town in Calabria, the southern region where the organization is based, police said.

The largest police operation took place in the Milan region of Lombardy, where 160 people were reportedly arrested. They included Pino Neri, whom police said was in charge of the gang’s businesses in Milan, where the ‘ndrangheta (en-DRAN-geh-tah) has been making major inroads.

Also arrested were Lombardy businessmen and the director of state medical services in the city of Pavia.

Investigators described the operation as one of the biggest blows ever to an organization that is now considered to be more powerful than the Sicilian Mafia. The raids involved 3,000 police across the country and the charges against those arrested ranged from murder and extortion to arms and drug trafficking and criminal association.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said the sweep struck at the heart of the ‘ndrangheta’s organization and finances.

Applause reportedly broke out in the Italian Senate upon hearing the news.

The sweep dismantled some of the most powerful families in the organization, Italian news agencies said. It also shed light on the ‘ndrangheta’s power hierarchy, exposing a more centralized and pyramid-like organization than previously thought.

Anti-mafia prosecutors say Milan has become the economic center for the organization, which migrated to the north in the 1970s and 1980s. Nearly all of the mafia clans are present in Lombardy.

Oppedisano received his nomination as top boss during the wedding of the children of two local bosses in 2009, according to the ANSA news agency. Neri, the alleged Milan boss, was promoted during a dinner with local bosses, it reported.

The last big operation against the Calabrian mob dates to the 1990s. Since then — mainly through its grip on drug trafficking — the ‘ndrangheta has expanded its power, not only in Italy but in such countries as Germany and as far away as Australia.

A clan war spread to Germany in 2007, when six Italians were gunned down by a rival gang in retribution for an earlier killing as they left a birthday celebration in the western city of Duisburg. Italian officials have said all three people responsible for the shooting have been arrested.

Prosecutors say wiretaps are key to investigating hard-to-infiltrate mafia clans, and have complained bitterly against a proposed new bill that aims to limit the use of electronic eavesdropping. Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who has been stung by some embarrassing disclosure in published transcripts of private conversations mostly unrelated to investigations, is pushing the measures through parliament.

While terrorism and mafia investigations are exempt from the proposed restrictions, magistrates complain that big probes often stem from low-level criminal cases. Passage of the law, they say, will give criminals operating in Italy protection.

The restrictions include a strict time limit on wiretaps, which prosecutors say is insufficient, and a level of proof needed to obtain permission to launch the wiretaps that investigators charge is tantamount to evidence needed for a conviction.

Associated Press Writer Colleen Barry in Milan contributed to this report.

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