Italian police in the southern region of Calabria have arrested 116 people affiliated to local mafia group 'Ndrangheta, following one of the largest wiretapping investigations into the crime syndicate.
More than 1,000 carabinieri – the Italian gendarmery – carried out a maxi-blitz targeting 23 mafia clans in the area of Locride. At least 23 bosses and dozens of members of clans including Pelle, Ficara-Latella, Serraino di Reggio, Morabito di Africo and Alvaro di Sinopoli were arrested and charged with, among other crimes, belonging to a criminal syndicate, extortion, fraud and firearm possession.
The mass arrest was carried out following a wiretapping investigation. In one the recorded conversations, Giuseppe "Ringo" Morabito, nephew of Africo Peppe Morabito – known as "U Tiradrittu" or "The Straight Shooter" – is heard saying: "I am the state here. The mafia, the original mafia, not the poor quality one". Giuseppe Morabito is already serving time in prison.
The investigation is a continuation of what authorities said was the most important wiretapping operation in Italy's history of fight against 'Ndrangheta, conducted after authorities had successfully wiretapped the house of mafia boss Giuseppe Pelle in 2000s.
The new investigation has led to the identification of "new positions and structures that 'Ndrangheta has adopted in recent years", police said in a statement quoted by Il Messagero newspaper.
Investigators said 'Ndrangheta had set up its own "tribunals" to judge people suspected of having breached their criminal code. The investigation "confirmed the danger posed by 'Ndrangheta as a unitary and secretive organisation, structured on various layers", news agency Ansa reported.
Recent investigations and police operations have resulted in several arrests of top mafia bosses in.
Last month, residents of a village in Calabria stirred outrage after they gathered outside the house of boss Giuseppe "The Goat" Giorgi to pay their respects as he was being arrested after 23 years on the run.
Police found Giorgi during a search in his house in San Luca village. The 56-year-old man, one of the five most wanted fugitives in Italy, complimented authorities for finding him.
In 2016, police arrested top 'Ndrangheta boss Antonio Pelle, who had been hiding since 2011. Pelle was arrested in his house in Benestare, where police found a hidden room built between the bathroom and his son's bedroom.
Pelle was serving a 26-year-sentence when he escaped from a hospital in the town of Locri in 2011. He had been charged for mafia association and arms and drug trafficking.
What is the 'Ndrangheta?
In recent years, 'Ndrangheta has become Italy's most powerful and feared mafia group. Part of its criminal success is down to its secretive nature. As clans are founded on strict blood ties, members rarely turn informer, making detectives' work harder.
'Ndrangheta is widely regarded as the group that has filled the void left by Sicilian mafia Cosa Nostra on the international drug trafficking stage, gaining the crown of Europe's biggest drug cartel.
A series of recent investigations has shown how its clans have become the favourite business partners for US mafia families, previously tied to the Sicilian mob.
Besides drug trafficking, 'Ndrangheta gangs are involved in several other illicit activities, except for prostitution, according to Enzo Ciconte, a professor of organised crime history at Rome University.