THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS - Hundreds of police in Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands arrested at least 84 suspected mobsters and seized around 2 million euros ($2.3 million) Wednesday in a series of coordinated raids targeting a powerful branch of the Italian mafia.
The raids were the culmination of an investigation codenamed Pollino that was launched in 2016 against the 'ndrangheta criminal group on allegations of cocaine trafficking, money laundering, bribery and violence, said Eurojust, the European prosecution agency that fights cross-border organized crime, which coordinated the operation.
Eurojust said the massive operation was the biggest of its kind in Europe. Some 4 tons of cocaine were traced during the two-year joint investigation. Cocaine and ecstasy pills also were seized in Wednesday's raids.
"Today we send a clear message to organized crime groups across Europe," Eurojust Vice President Filippo Spiezia said. "They are not the only ones able to operate across borders; so are Europe's judiciary and law enforcement communities."
Eurojust said Italian authorities arrested 41 suspects mainly in the southern regions of Calabria and Catanzaro.
In Germany, federal police said there had been multiple arrests in the early morning raids on premises linked to the southern Italy-based organized crime group. The focus was on the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, which borders the Netherlands and Belgium, and Bavaria to the south.
Five suspects were arrested in the Netherlands, where prosecutors got the ball rolling for the investigation in 2014 with probes into two Italian restaurants, and more were detained just over the border in Belgium.
Italian police hailed the cooperation between European police forces coordinated by Eurojust, saying it was an important new crime-fighting tactic that allowed investigators in different countries to share information in real time.
But Federico Cafiero De Raho, Italian anti-mafia and anti-terrorism national prosecutor, also sounded a note of caution, saying that the raids only scratched the surface of the powerful 'ndrangheta, whose tentacles and illicit activities spread all over the world.
Speaking in The Hague, De Raho said the arrests "are nothing for 'ndrangheta. There are thousands of people who should be arrested and billions of euros that should be seized."