Italy police dismantle international cocaine network linked to Malta
Italian finance police on Tuesday dismantled an international cocaine smuggling ring run by the ‘Ndrangheta criminal group after deciphering a secret code, said the operation commander.
More than 400 officers carried out dawn raids across the country, armed with 57 arrest warrants after a four-year, dubbed “Crypto” investigation of more than 90 suspects, many of whom are from known Mafia families.
Those arrested are accused of transporting large quantities of cocaine from Northern Europe and Spain to Italy, of having hidden them in false bottoms of car trunks and, in some cases, of transporting them afterwards. to Malta by boat.
“They communicated via a complex code matching numbers to seemingly random letters of the alphabet, without any spaces or punctuation,” Captain Carmine Virno, whose team investigated, told AFP.
“The Ndrangheta families of Gioia Tauro and Rosarno in southern Italy have established direct contact with South American suppliers through an intermediary in the Dominican Republic,” police said in a statement.
Another suspect, who lives in Germany but has ties to the mountainous town of Guardavalle in Calabria – a stronghold of the mob – has acted both as a courier and as a middleman with dealers in northern Europe, has t -he declares.
The traffickers “used disposable German SIM cards and communicated only by text message, so they could not be identified by their voice if the phones were tapped,” Virno said.
Crack the code
The Virno team worked meticulously on the code until they finally broke it when they understood the word “con”, which means “with” in English.
On Tuesday, they found proof they were right, the police captain said.
Officers who searched the house of a member of the upper circle discovered a pizzas, seen by AFP, with the alphabet written in blue and the corresponding numbers below in red.
A pizzas is a small piece of paper traditionally used by the Sicilian Mafia for high level secret communications.
This one, carefully cut out in a squared notebook, encoded large orders of cocaine.
Once the code was cracked, police resorted to old-fashioned surveillance techniques to gather evidence against the suspects, who were adept at evading modern technological traps, he said.
Some 3.7 million euros in assets were seized during the searches on Tuesday.
Based in Calabria, the region that forms the tip of the Italian boot, the ‘Ndrangheta is considered one of the most powerful crime syndicates in the world due to its control over the cocaine movement in Europe.
It has extended its reach to all parts of the world and has long overtaken Sicily’s Cosa Nostra as Italy’s largest mafia organization.
The investigation showed the ‘Ndrangheta the families nevertheless believed that the Sicilian Mafia had its use.
They bonded with the powerful Cappello family in Catania to set up the shipment of cocaine to Malta.
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