Italian Prosecutors: Calabrian Mafia's Crimes With Drugs, Illegal Immigrants Lucrative

The increasingly aggressive Calabrian mob syndicate did almost $69 billion in criminal business in 2007, most of it in cocaine trafficking, while also getting its grip on illegal immigration, prosecutors and researchers said Wednesday.

The Rome-based Eurispes think tank said the Calabrian 'ndrangheta's take was the equivalent of 2.9 percent of Italy's gross domestic product. The revenues were up 16 percent from $58 billion in 2006.

The report said some 62 percent of the illegal revenue was generated from drugs, most of from direct ties with Colombian cocaine cartels.

Calabrian prosecutors at the presentation of the dossier said the 'ndrangheta also is heavily involved in smuggling illegal immigrants whom they employ for black-market labor and prostitution. Further, they use the same people-smuggling routes to traffic arms — mostly weapons from the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

"The price of a Kalashnikov now goes for one-third the price of a pistol," said Mario Spagnuolo, an anti-Mafia prosecutor in Cantanzaro, Calabria.

Italian investigators began sounding warnings several years ago that the Calabrian crime clans have outstripped the Sicilian Mafia in power and reach in Europe, thanks to its domination of the cocaine trafficking on the continent.

Last summer's massacre of six young Italians outside a pizzeria in Duisburg, Germany, confirmed to the world the Italian warning that 'ndrangheta crime syndicate had come of age as an international force.

The mob, based in one of Italy's most backward regions, used to mainly concern itself with shaking down small town merchants and staging kidnappings for ransom. Composed of clusters of families so loyal they practically pledge many of their newborns to a life of crime, it expanded into the biggest player in Europe's flourishing cocaine market, largely by cutting out intermediaries in dealing with the Colombia cartels, prosecutors say.

"Duisberg might capture your imagination, but it was only a symptom of a 20-year-old, ignored presence" of the 'ndrangheta in Europe, said Vincenzo Macri, a national anti-Mafia prosecutor based in Calabria.

Macri said investigators are worried that the arms are being stockpiled by feuding 'ndrangheta clans, who are jockeying to get their hands on public works contracts, another money maker for the mob.

"There is a particular instability" among clans now, "which could explode to the point of wars that could last for decades," Macri predicted.

Especially appetizing for the mob would be billions of dollars worth of contracts linked to the construction of a bridge between southern Calabria at the tip of the Italian peninsula to Sicily. Premier Silvio Berlusconi has pledged to make its construction one of the first main projects of his new government.

It was unlikely the 'ndrangheta or the Sicilian Cosa Nostra mob would directly be involved with companies which would build the bridge itself, because bridge engineering is limited to relatively few business, Macri said.

But he predicted that the mob would have a field day in infiltrating local contracts for excavation, quarrying, cement production and construction of rail and highway links needed if the bridge gets built.

Spagnuolo said investigators have found increasing evidence that the 'ndrangheta directly runs businesses itself. He cited tourist resorts along the region's extensive coastline, saying the 'ndrangheta runs some of them, particularly in the Crotone area.