ROME, June 18 (Xinhua) -- Police have arrested 104 organized crime suspects, including a prominent member of an anti-mafia group, in a vast operation spanning several cities in the southern Puglia region in the heel of Italy's boot, local media reported Monday.
Charges reportedly include racketeering, attempted murder, battery, drug trafficking, possession of illegal weapons, kidnapping, and robbery.
The operation code-named Pandora targeted two clans of the Sacra Corona Unita (SCU, Italian for "United Sacred Crown") mafia active in Puglia.
Investigators say businessman Roberto De Blasio, who sits on the board of a local chapter of the Italian Anti-Racketeering Association (FAI), is a full-fledged SCU affiliate.
"He literally infiltrated the anti-racketeering association," ANSA news agency cited Prosecutor Roberto Volpe as saying.
FAI is a non-profit organization made up of entrepreneurs who decided to fight the mafia instead of giving in to extortion. "Not paying protection money to the mafia is a question of honor and dignity," the FAI website says.
The Italian government supports anti-racketeering associations as part of its anti-mafia policies, which include a fund to compensate victims of extortion.
The fund of just over 27 million euros handed out almost 18 million euros in compensation to victims in 2017, according to the Interior Ministry.
"I am grateful to the men and women in uniform who fight organized crime on a daily basis," La Repubblica newspaper quoted Interior Minister Matteo Salvini as saying.
Salvini, whose far-right League party is tough on crime, added he plans to visit Puglia soon and that "the fight against the mafia is one of my priorities", according to La Repubblica.
"My compliments to the police and prosecutors who... scored an anti-mafia blitz that led to 104 arrests," tweeted Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede from the populist Five Star Movement.
"The justice system doesn't back down in the face of adversity," Bonafede tweeted in reference to the fact that prosecutors have been working in tents since the local courthouse was evacuated in May after its building was found to be unstable.
The black market economy - meaning undeclared activities, labor and services - was worth about 208 billion euros (just over 240 billion U.S. dollars) or 12.6 percent of national GDP in 2015, according to an October 2017 report from ISTAT national statistics institute.
Illegal activities - many of them dominated by the mafia - were worth an estimated 17 billion euros, or 8.2 percent of GDP, ISTAT said. The next such report will be out in October 2018.