ROME: Italian police on Monday arrested more than 90 mafia suspects on charges of extortion and association in criminal networks in Palermo, the capital city of southern Sicily Island, local media said.
Prosecutors reportedly dismantled part of the Cosa Nostra crime syndicate, better known as the Sicilian mafia, which they found to have penetrated part of Palermo’s legal economy through a suffocating extortive network.
Among the arrested, which were as many as 95 according to ANSA news agency, there were both renowned mafia bosses and their heirs. Police also seized businesses worth millions of euros.
The huge joint operation, named Apocalypse Operation, was ordered by the local anti-mafia unit and enforced after months of wiretapping and bugging of conversations.
Police found that a number of shops and construction sites in the western part of Palermo had fallen “into the grip” of mafia clans, being forced to pay Cosa Nostra for protection, according to la Repubblica newspaper.
The crime syndicate, which now has had more sophisticated presence in the Italian economy, got a new name from local press, the “new Cosa Nostra”. They provided their supplies of meat to noted butchers in the city center through forced means and laundered dirty money by betting on football matches, investigators told a press conference later in the day.
It also emerged that an “anti-racket” entrepreneur and aspiring politician, Pietro Franzetti, who was among the organizers of an anti-mafia demonstration held in Rome last week, was suspected of vote-buying with the help of clans, according to Palermo Today newspaper.
A total of 34 extortions were ascertained in the operation, while only one manager at the helm of a local company dared to report an attempted extortion to police.
Among the revelations that investigators learned from recordings, there was the name of the killer of Joe Petrosino, the first policeman to be shot by Cosa Nostra in 1909. One of the arrested, Domenico Palazzotto, was caught bragging that the uncle of his father had committed the murder of the New York City police officer, who had traveled to Palermo on a top-secret mission over 100 years ago.
Last week, Italian police carried out another major anti-mafia operation also in Palermo, arresting 17 people on mafia association, drug trafficking and extortion charges.
Italian mafias have traditionally been engaged in a variety of criminal activities. Over the past few years, however, the service industry, real estate and trade have become the legitimate sectors where the syndicates have invested their profits, often covered up by unlawful transactions and political connections.
Recent investigations have uncovered dozens of mafia-owned restaurants, bars and shops in the heart of Italy’s big cities, sounding the alarm bell that mafia clans have turned their hands to the power and wealth centers of the country.
Several town councils in Italy have been dissolved for mafia infiltrations, and reports of politicians arrested on charges of links with the organized crime have become frequent events. PNA