Italy raids after Calabria council fired for 'mafia ties'

Map of Italy with Reggio Calabria

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Italian police have conducted raids and arrests in Reggio Calabria after the government sacked the southern city's council over alleged mafia links.

The arrests targeted a branch of the 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate accused of exploiting rubbish collection.

Assets worth more than 30m euros (£24m) were being seized in several regions, officials said.

The sacking was the first time the entire government of a provincial capital had been fired in such a case.

All 30 city councillors were sacked to prevent any "mafia contagion" in the local government, Interior Minister Annamaria Cancellieri said.

Analysis

The world beyond Italy has barely heard of the 'Ndrangheta network. But here it is seen as a formidable force that is now much more powerful than its better known counterpart, the Sicilian Mafia.

The 'Ndrangheta is particularly closely knit and hard for law enforcement agencies to penetrate. It is sophisticated and ambitious. It operates across Europe and has connections with Colombian drug cartels. Recently there's been renewed concern about the extent of 'Ndrangheta activity in Canada.

In the past few years the extent of the network's operation in northern Italy has become apparent. But its heartland is very much the southern region of Calabria, where it emerged. It is no surprise that the organisation has sought to penetrate the administration of the provincial capital, Reggio Calabria.

Having the council in its grip would have given the gangsters easier access to the local and national funds flowing through the city. The administration's business dealings, its awarding of contracts and so on could have been skewed in the favour of the network and its associates.

Three commissioners will run the city for 18 months until the next elections.

Italy's parliamentary anti-mafia commission has described the 'Ndrangheta as the country's most dangerous and wealthiest crime syndicate, overtaking the Sicilian Mafia and becoming one of the world's biggest criminal organisations.

'Cash for votes'

Among those arrested in Reggio Calabria on Wednesday on charges including mafia association were the suspected head of the Fontana clan, a branch within the 'Ndrangheta, and the director of a company that runs rubbish collection for the city.

Police were taking possession of goods and property in Reggio Calabria, Rome and Tuscany.

Also on Wednesday, security forces arrested a member of the local government in the northern city of Milan accused of paying 200,000 euros to 'Ndrangheta in exchange for 4,000 votes.

Officials said housing commissioner Domenico Zambetti was accused of corruption, mafia association and vote-buying.

Authorities have become increasingly concerned about 'Ndrangheta's growing influence in northern Italy and elsewhere in Europe.

Cocaine is thought to be its biggest source of revenue, along with extortion and money laundering.

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