ROME, Dec. 5 (Xinhua) -- Italy has busted a major 'Ndrangheta mafia drug smuggling and money laundering ring, arresting 90 suspects in a joint operation with Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, police announced Wednesday.
"International operation by Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium police forces in joint action against 'Ndrangheta (Calabria-based mafia) and its affiliates in Europe and South America," Italian state police tweeted. "90 probed for mafia association, drug trafficking, laundering goods of illicit provenance."
Code-named Operation Pollino after an area in southern Italy where the crime organization has its roots, the action entailed "arrests and seizures against a 'Ndrangheta criminal group involved in cocaine trafficking, money laundering, bribery, and violence," European Union (EU) judicial cooperation agency Eurojust, which coordinated the four-country joint investigation that began in January 2016, said in a statement.
Italian National Anti-Mafia and Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor Federico Cafiero De Raho said the drug trafficking ring moved an estimated two tonnes of cocaine and hashish through the Dutch ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam and through Gioia Tauro, Naples, Salerno, Genoa, and Livorno ports in Italy.
They did this with the help of "permanent groups working in ports and harbors, where they unload the drugs from containers and sort them," Cafiero De Raho told reporters at a joint press conference with top law enforcement officials from Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands as well as Eurojust.
"When we say 'Ndrangheta, we mean a global organization based...in the province of Reggio Calabria (on the tip of Italy's boot) with hundreds of branches in Italy and abroad," Cafiero De Raho explained.
The 'Ndrangheta, he said, has bases in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, 50 local branches in Canada and the U.S. as well as international brokers in Brazil, Columbia, and Ecuador.
"Any country that produces cocaine has these kinds of people residing there," said the Italian top prosecutor, adding that in the course of the investigation, law enforcement tracked drug imports to Europe from Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru and Suriname.
"Of the 90 arrests, 70 are Italian nationals," he said, praising the "extraordinary nature of this operation" which was also carried out with help from Europol, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Eurojust.
Cafiero De Raho stressed that international cooperation is the key to fighting the mafia, which has allied itself with criminal organizations from other countries, such as the Albanian mafia.
"If we do not cooperate as we did in this case, the 'Ndrangheta and other mafia organizations will continue polluting the market in order to infiltrate the legal economy," he said.
"They act in the market through professionals such as lawyers and accountants," he explained. "This learned part of the 'Ndrangheta has university degrees and is invisible, and this is how they pollute not just the Italian economy but also other European economies."
"Certainly we have not defeated the 'Ndrangheta with this operation," Cafiero De Raho added, describing the Calabrian criminal organization as "extremely powerful, extremely rich" and one that is seen as an equal by Columbian and Mexican drug cartels.
Dutch Chief Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke, who was at the press conference, said "Today we have conveyed an important message to criminal organizations: they are not the only ones who operate in a transborder fashion."