Six alleged members of the Italian mafia group 'Ndrangheta have been arrested in Argentina, Albania and Costa Rica for suspected smuggling of drugs and weapons, Interpol said on Friday.
The suspects are believed to have links to the Southern Italian ‘Ndrangheta Bellocco clan, a mafia organisation that has been implicated in shipping cocaine from Argentina and Costa Rica, the police agency said in a statement.
In a joint operation carried out by Interpol and the Italian police, three of the fugitive gang members were arrested in the Palermo barrio of Buenos Aires City on Tuesday and are in the process of being extradited back to Italy for trial.
The detainees were identified as Giovanni Di Prieto, Fabio Ponpetti and Ferdinango Sarago. The three men stand accused of “illicit association, production of illicit drugs and illicit drug trafficking”.
According to official sources, the case is investigating "the existence of a large scale, narco-criminal organisation linked to smuggling and/or illicit trafficking of narcotic substances–specifically cocaine hydrochloride–from Argentina to the European continent, which may be linked to similar organisations in Brazil and Italy.”
The investigation began three years ago and includes 45 other people for whom there is an order of international arrest in different parts of the world. One suspect has been arrested in the Albanian capital Tirana, while another was found and arrested in Costa Rica this week.
A sixth suspect, who had evaded arrest last year under an operation of the 11-nation anti-'Ndrangheta I-CAN project, was picked up in Albania in May.
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According to the Interpol statement, 400 kilogrammes of cocaine were seized along with 30 kg of hashish, 15 kg of marijuana, an automatic assault rifle, three semi-automatic pistols, a silencer and ammunition of various calibres.
"The operations and ensuing investigations enabled police to completely dismantle the 'Bellocco' 'Ndrangheta family clan in Rosarno (Reggio Calabria) along with its regional branches, arresting all top members of the family operating across Italy," it added.
The latest arrests came after I-CAN rounded up 45 'Ndrangheta members across Italy last year.
The 'Ndrangheta, based in Italy’s Calabria region, has surpassed Sicily's better-known Cosa Nostra to become the country's most powerful mafia group, operating across the world.
"The 'Ndrangheta represents a threat that has silently polluted the economy of more than 30 countries around the world," said Prefect Rizzi, Deputy Director General of Public Security at Italy’s Central Directorate of the Criminal Police.
"The only way it can be countered is through a more powerful global network," he added.
In May, Italian police targeted 63 people in an operation that uncovered "systematic fraud" in public work tenders. The tenders were valued at over 100 million which was valued at over 100 million euros (US$110 million) and which included EU funds.
A major police sting against the group in December resulted in the arrest of 334 people, including a police colonel and a former MP.