Germany and Italy clamp down on Italian mob with raids, arrests

A police officer gets into a car with a suspect in the back seat whose head is covered
A police officer gets into a car with a suspect in the backseat during a raid Wednesday in Hagen, Germany.
(Alex Talash / Associated Press)

Police across Europe arrested scores of people, raided homes and seized millions of euros’ worth of assets on Wednesday in a coordinated crackdown on Italy’s ’Ndrangheta organized crime syndicate, one of the world’s most powerful, extensive and wealthy drug-trafficking groups.

The operation, coordinated by the European Union agency Eurojust, aimed to dismantle a network that also includes Colombian drug producers and paramilitary groups, and that moves tons of cocaine each year to Europe and Australia.

Investigators reported that the network was found to use ports in Ecuador, Panama and Brazil to ship drugs from Colombia to sorthern Europe, while also dealing in weapons. Drug proceeds were then laundered through restaurants, ice cream shops and car washes, and money was sent back to Colombian drug producers via a Chinese wire transfer service, according to Italian officials and a news release from the Carabinieri national police force.


A large trial has opened in southern Italy against the ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate, arguably the world’s richest criminal organization.

Jan. 13, 2021

“With today’s coordinated measures across Europe, law enforcement authorities have dealt a serious blow to the ’Ndrangheta,” German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said. “Today’s raids are one of the largest operations to date in the fight against Italian organized crime.”

In Italy, Carabinieri police backed by helicopters served arrest warrants on 108 people accused of Mafia ties; possession, production or trafficking of drugs and weapons; money laundering; and other crimes.

In Germany, more than 1,000 officers searched dozens of homes, offices and stores in the states of Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Thuringia, prosecutors said in a statement. More than 30 suspects with outstanding warrants were arrested.

Rocco Morabito was convicted two decades ago in absentia of drug-trafficking as part of the fearsome ‘Ndrangheta organized crime syndicate.

July 6, 2022

In addition to Italy and Germany, arrest warrants were also served in Belgium, France, Portugal, Romania and Spain, while raids were also conducted in Slovenia.

Portugal’s Judiciary Police said its officers had arrested a 62-year-old Italian man on charges of criminal association, money laundering and drug trafficking as part of the European operation, which was dubbed Eureka. They also seized about half a million euros and various documents, among other confiscated items.

European authorities have been waging a campaign against the Calabria-based ’Ndrangheta in recent years, as the group has eclipsed the Sicilian Mafia as the key mover of tens of billion euros in cocaine in recent decades moving from South America to Europe.


At a press conference in the Calabrian capital Reggio Calabria, officials estimated the operation had resulted in the seizure of 23 tons of cocaine over years of investigation, which deprived the ’Ndrangheta of some $2.8 billion in revenue. In addition, they announced that assets worth $28 million were seized.

Convicted Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro was arrested at a private clinic in Palermo, Sicily, after three decades on the run, authorities said.

Jan. 16, 2023

Margaritis Schinas, vice president of the EU’s executive commission, said the operation “delivered a lightning strike, as was the name of the operation, against the ’Ndrangheta organized crime syndicate ... with over 100 arrests.”

In Germany, the main focus of the operation was in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, with around 500 officers deployed in each state. In North Rhine-Westphalia, 51 houses, apartments, offices and businesses were searched and 15 suspects were arrested.

The ’Ndrangheta has been firmly established in Germany since the 1970s. It is considered the strongest of the Italian organized crime groups in the country, and is mainly focused on international narcotics trafficking, according to the German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation.