Hard knocks for European Mafiosi


It has been a bad week for international crime bosses. A two-year operation by European police forces just came to a triumphant end when law officers in Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands swooped on Mafia operations.

At least 90 suspects were detained. Over three tons of cocaine and 140 kilograms were seized along with millions of euros. The mobsters targeted in this apparently painstaking “Operation Pollino” belonged to the crime syndicate the Ndrangheta, arguably the most vicious and brutal of all the Mafia gangs.

Based in Calabria in southern Italy, it is understood that some of its key bosses were picked up as hundreds of European police officers conducted in the simultaneous dawn raids Wednesday across all four countries. This is a significant blow to organized crime, not least because the Ndrangheta is, thanks to its violent targeting of all rival criminal gangs, believed to be responsible for fully 80 percent of all cocaine peddling in Europe.

Earlier in the week Italian police in Sicily picked up the recently-appointed head of the island’s Cosa Nostra Mafia. Settimo Mineo had been elected by his fellow mobsters last May as "capo dei capi" — “boss of bosses”, to replace Tot Riino who died in prison last year. Mineo was arrested along with 45 other gangland suspects in raids during which police also found narcotics, weapons and large piles of cash.

Last month there was another crackdown on organized crime in both Rome and Naples during which police swooped on large villas illegally built by Mafia hoodlums. The extra blow for the mobsters is that not only have they been detained and more drugs, guns and money seized, but the authorities have also said that they intend to demolish these structures, built as they were with the proceeds of narcotics, prostitution and extortion.

Moreover it is not simply local mafias that are being attacked by law officers. Nigerian-based gangs of asylum seekers are being targeted by police in Turin. These criminals have reportedly yet to establish themselves in the drugs trade — doubtless because the Ndrangheta would have something to say about it — but they specialize instead in prostitution using Nigerian girls duped into coming as refugees to Europe, as well as in robbery and intimidation.

Nevertheless, while it is absolutely right to congratulate the authorities for what amount to some of the most severe blows every delivered to the Mafia in Europe, the harsh reality is that these are still only battles won in a war that goes on. Among the biggest challenges facing investigators is that the immense income generated by Mafia crimes has been and will continue to be used to bribe and subvert the forces of law and order.

Last year a report by a German financial crime unit found that mobsters were using crypto-currencies to hide their cash flows around the world. But the good news is that in the globalized financial world, the likes of Bitcoin still have to be bought through an online transaction, even if their ownership thereafter disappears. As Danske Bank and it seems Deutsche Bank are discovering to their cost, fraud busters with the time and resources can chase down an unerasable electronic record to expose money-laundering. And as cash becomes less and less used, the money-laundering problems for organized criminals only look to get worse.