Police detained 33 people in Spain, Italy and Germany on Wednesday as part of a Europe-wide operation against suspected members of Italy’s Camorra crime group, law enforcement officials said.
Over 330 police officers carried out 35 morning raids on homes, restaurants and other businesses in the three countries as part of the operation, European Union police agency Europol said in a statement.
The operation aimed to “dismantle an international criminal organisation involved in drug trafficking and money laundering,” a spokesman for Spain’s Guardia Civil police force told AFP.
He identified the organisation as the “Italian Camorra,” based in Naples in southern Italy.
The group allegedly smuggled “large quantities of cocaine and hashish from Spain to Italy,” EU anti-crime coordination agency Eurojust said in a statement.
“The drug proceeds were laundered via reinvestment in catering, food import and export, trade in precious metals and vehicles, and football,” it added.
Police seized assets worth five million euros ($5.6 million) from the suspects in Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Britain as well as 520 kilos of cocaine and 450 kilos of hashish and marijuana, Europol said.
Officers arrested 18 suspects in Italy, 12 in Spain and three in Germany, a Eurojust spokeswoman said.
The investigation is continuing and further arrests are expected in the near future, Eurojust added.
A drug seizure two years ago prompted the probe by the Anti-Mafia Prosecution Office in Naples that led to Wednesday’s operation in three countries, said Eurojust.
Police regularly detain members of the Italian mafias in Spain.
In an interview with El Pais newspaper last month, Italy’s mafia prosecutor Franco Roberti said his country’s crime syndicates were solidly implanted in Spain.
He said the country was “a strategic place” for them “for geographical reasons, and because they think they can go about their business under less scrutiny.”
“It’s a strategic location for drug trafficking and offers opportunities for money laundering. They see it as a place to colonise.”
Spain’s proximity to Morocco, one of the world’s largest producers of hashish, as well as its close ties with former colonies in Latin America have made it the main entry point of hashish and cocaine into Europe.
Several Italian mafia clans have transferred their more risky activities such as drug trafficking to Spain, according to Italian journalist Roberto Saviano, the author of “Gomorrah”, the best-selling expose on the criminal underworld in Naples.
Camorra bosses refer to Spain’s Mediterranean coast as “Costa Nostra”, or “Our Coast”, alluding to the Sicilian mafia “Cosa Nostra”, according to Saviano.