Italian mafia sweep nets centrist leader, white-collar workers
22 Jan 2021

Italian police arrested 50 people on Thursday and placed a prominent centrist politician under investigation in a crackdown on the ‘Ndrangheta mafia that prosecutors say lays bare its efforts to launder cash and buy influence.

The ‘Ndrangheta is based in the southern region of Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot, and has surpassed Sicily’s more famous Cosa Nostra to become the most powerful mafia group in the country — and one of the largest crime gangs in the world.

“This investigation makes clear what we have been saying for decades. The ‘Ndrangheta shoots less and has more and more ties with business and politics,” said prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, who last week launched one of Italy’s biggest mob trials.

Among those placed under investigation was Lorenzo Cesa, head of the small UDC party, who was in the national spotlight last week after he rejected overtures from Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to join the ruling coalition, which has lost its absolute majority in parliament.

Gratteri said Cesa was suspected of offering to procure contracts for the ‘Ndrangheta in return for favours.

Cesa, who is a member of the European Parliament representing southern Italy, denied the accusation, but said he would resign as head of the UDC “given this particular moment our country is going through”.

It was not immediately clear if his departure would lead to a rethink within the UDC over Conte’s request for backing.

The police in Calabria said they carried out more than 250,000 phone taps and secret recordings which helped show how the ‘Ndrangheta had used an array of front companies to launder money and generate false invoices for tax scams.

Warehouses were rented, but left empty, and trucks sent in for simulated offloading and loading operations, the police said.

By Crispian Balmer, Reuters, 21 January 2021

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