ROME — Italian police swooped on the powerful 'Ndrangheta Mafia on Tuesday, arresting more than 300 people — including the group's suspected top boss — and seizing millions of dollars in assets in one of the biggest operations against organized crime in the country's history.
About 3,000 police officers fanned out across the country in the early morning sweep, which caught some suspects still in bed. Although the 'Ndrangheta is based in the Calabria region in the south, many of the arrests took place in the north, around Milan, where the group has increasingly shifted its operations.
Among those netted in the raid was 80-year-old Domenico Oppedisano, the man believed to be the syndicate's No. 1 boss. Oppedisano was arrested in Rosarno, in the south; news of his capture reportedly brought lawmakers to their feet, cheering, in Italy's senate.
Authorities said the sting hit the 'Ndrangheta's nerve center and resulted in the dismantling of some of its key structures and clans. Charges to be filed include murder, drug trafficking and extortion.
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"This is one of the most important operations against the 'Ndrangheta in recent years," Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said.
The organization controls much of the European trade in cocaine and is thought to have eclipsed even the feared Sicilian Mafia in power and ruthlessness. Its tentacles have spread throughout Italy and even beyond.
Diego Trotta, a senior police investigator, said that Tuesday's dragnet was based on intelligence gathered over the past year largely in Calabria, where authorities had bugged a dry cleaner belonging to Francesco Commisso, a suspected member of the organization.
"It was almost like a confessional," Trotta said. "People would go and see him every day and tell him about their problems and discussions they had with other mafia members. Francesco would take decisions on who would get a certain building contract, who would get a share of the traffic of toxic waste, drug trafficking, etc. This wiretapping was fundamental for all those arrests."