A video screenshot from the Italian police shows Carabinieri cars early in the morning on Tuesday. Photo: Carabinieri/DPA.
Italian and German police have rounded up more than 160 suspects in a vast anti-mafia operation in the two countries, cracking open a crime empire that grew rich on bread, wine and funeral services.
Some €50 million worth of property was seized in the joint operation against the 'Ndrangheta mafia, the Carabinieri said in a statement on Tuesday.
The powerful organised crime syndicate based in southern Italy had infiltrated businesses across Italy as well as in Germany.
Many of the 160 arrest warrants – issued for mafia association, attempted murder, money laundering, extortion and illegal weapons – targeted suspects already serving time for other crimes.
The crime ring's "holding company", based in the town of Ciro in Calabria, was led from his cell by Giuseppe Farao, a 70-year-old boss already sentenced to life imprisonment but still issuing instructions to his family and associates.
Farao and sons had fingers in several pies in Italy: they controlled bakeries, vineyards and olive groves, and forced restaurants and hotels to use their products.
They had also infiltrated funeral homes, laundrettes, plastic recycling plants and shipyards, with a dozen local elected officials including mayors implicated in fraudulent public tenders.
The group was also involved in tourism and gambling businesses, as well as reception centres for migrants.
Wiretaps revealed the gang had expanded to Germany and was intimidating "owners of restaurants, pizza and ice cream parlours, forcing them to buy products from the companies controlled by the criminal group".
Eleven of the suspects, aged 36 to 61, were detained in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia on accusations of blackmailing and money laundering, German police said.
Violence 'bad for business'
Despite the violent crimes on the charge sheets, the clan had attempted to squeeze the most money out of its business interests without waving Kalashnikovs around.
The aim was "to limit the use of violence as much as possible and avoid the internal struggles that are bad for business," Italian police said in a statement.
At least 5,000 restaurants in Italy are in the hands of organized crime groups, the country's biggest agricultural association Coldiretti said on Tuesday.
The business was worth €21.8 billion in 2017, up 30 percent on a year earlier, and affected the whole food chain from production to transport and distribution – including the export of counterfeit Made in Italy goods, it said.
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