Dozens of people with links to Naples’ notorious Casalesi cartel have been arrested by Italian police.
In a series of early morning raids on Wednesday, anti-mafia officers detained 69 suspects – including several high-prolife political figures, public officials and academics – in connection with an investigation into allegations of bid-rigging and corruption.
A former mayor of Pompeii and Naples’ top archaeology official were among those held after police targeted properties in at least 10 towns across an area spanning Naples and the city of Caserta.
They were arrested as part of an operation codenamed “the Queen”, which was set up to investigate allegations of tender-rigging in favour of the Casalesi clan, which is a branch of Neapolitan mafia group the Camorra.
Police said those arrested were suspected of being behind “very serious irregularities” in tender processes for the award of numerous public contracts in various provinces of Campania.
The 18 deals being probed as part of the investigation include contracts for a new conference centre in Naples, a second university for the city, a new crematorium in Pompeii and an archaeological museum.
A local construction entrepreneur is said to have headed up the alleged corruption network, which police believe involved members of the feared Zagaria family, which is part of the Camorra’s Casalesi.
The Casalesi cartel, one of the most powerful of the Camorra clans, has a reputation for extreme violence. The group gained notoriety in the mid-nineties when its gunmen killed anti-mafia priest Father Giuseppe Diana in his church.
Wednesday morning’s arrests came a day after Italian prosecutors voiced concern over how mafia groups are increasingly infiltrating local agriculture and food markets.
Responding to a report produced by Italy’s farming lobby Coldiretti that found “agri-mafia” interests increased by 30% last year, the prosecutors called for new legislation to halt gangs’ involvement in the farming and food production industries.
Coldiretti said: “The most notorious clans of organised crime have divvied up the food business, putting their hands on the products that are symbols of ‘made in Italy’.”
Gianni Cantele, President of Coldiretti Puglia, said mafia groups have been found to be producing fake extra virgin olive oil, a practice that has the potential to damage the reputation of one of Italy’s largest export products.
The organisation’s report also reveals that the Casalesi crime clan controls much of the sales of buffalo mozzarella produced in the Naples region, and notes that the ‘ndrangheta cartel is behind the production and exports of oranges, mandarin oranges and lemons.
In all, Coldirettie estimates that Italy’s crime syndicates invested €21.8 billion in the country’s farming and food production industries in 2016.
“The food business has become a strategic place for Italian mafias to launder the profits from their more classic activities,” the London Times quotes Coldiretti chief Roberto Moncalvo as saying. “We all need to eat, so it’s a sector that holds up in a financial crisis, and can profit from the good name of Italian food around the world,” he added.