Italian soldiers being sent to bolster protection for prosecutors threatened by mobsters

By Frances Demilio, AP
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Army to help Italy’s anti-mob prosecutors

ROME — Italy is sending soldiers to a southern city to bolster protection for prosecutors threatened by mobsters from the ‘ndrangheta, the powerful organized crime group that has been hit by hundreds of arrests and shaken by turncoats, authorities said Wednesday.

Reggio Calabria’s prefect, Luigi Varratta, told reporters after a special meeting of top security officials in the Calabrian capital that the soldiers would be posted around the clock outside the city’s courthouse and offices where the prosecutors work.

Extra contingents of paramilitary Carabinieri and state police office also were being deployed, starting Wednesday, Varratta’s office said.

“If the army’s men helps us to free up some police” for investigations, the strategy would be useful, Reggio’s prosecutor general, Salvatore Di Lando, said outside the courthouse.

Police on Tuesday announced the discovery — thanks to an anonymous phone tip — of a Yugoslavian-made unloaded bazooka near the courthouse.

It was the latest in a series of what authorities call clear messages from the ‘ndrangheta aimed at intimidating prosecutors who have been dealing the syndicate some harsh blows lately.

In January a bomb damaged the courthouse entrance and a few weeks later a bullet was mailed to an anti-mob prosecutor. This summer, a bomb damaged the home of a magistrate who has been investigating the ‘ndrangheta.

Arms trafficking, including smuggling in weapons from the former Yugoslavia, has long been one of the ‘ndrangheta’s rackets, along with systematic extortion of local businesses.

In the last decade, the ‘ndrangheta has aggressively become one of the world’s biggest cocaine traffickers, often working closely with Mexico’s narcotics bosses, to supply Western Europe with the drug and put billions of euros (dollars) in profits in the syndicate’s coffers.

Until recently, the close-knit family structure of the ‘ndrangheta meant turncoats were rare, while Cosa Nostra’s less-family-oriented structure saw it seriously weakened by a small army of mobsters who collaborated with law enforcement after their arrest.

But some turncoats have been emerging from the ‘ndrangheta’s ranks. Just a few days ago, Prosecutor Giuseppe Pignatone, described by authorities as the target of the bazooka threat, told reporters one of several recently arrested mobsters had decided to become a turncoat.

During one sweep this summer, police in Calabria arrested some 300 mob suspects.

Authorities also have confiscated millions of euros (dollars) worth of assets, including villas of bosses and other real estate, luxury cars and businesses suspected of being bought or operated with drug profits.

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