Anti-mafia police swooped on 33 suspected Chinese gang members involved in gambling, prostitution, drugs and the transport of Chinese goods across Europe.

Detectives launched a series of dawn raids, codenamed operation 'China Truck', targeting the group who they say use mafia methods, such as intimidation, extortion and violence.

The gang is based in Prato, Tuscany, but police said it had manged to extend its influence to Rome, Florence, Milan, Padua and Pisa. The criminal network also operates in parts of France and Germany.

Italy's chief anti-Mafia prosecutor Federico Cafiero de Raho said the gang earned cash from trafficking drugs, gambling and prostitution, which they used to muscle into haulage firms, controlling the movement of Chinese-made goods in much of Europe. He added apart from the arrests, they were actively investigating 21 others.

The network is "a dangerous organisation that had used force to take control of trucking, and was financed by its illegal activities," added Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti.

The gang is led by Zhang Nai Zhong who is was based in Rome, and is reported to have a love of dining in upmarket restaurants.

His young lover was among those arrested by officers, who found bundles of cash stashed in her apartment.

Police said they seized several companies, vehicles, properties and current accounts that total "several million euros".

However, police have not yet boasted of catching up with Zhang.

Investigators said Zhang emerged as the winner of a deadly fight for control of haulage firms between rival Chinese gangs in which some 40 people were murdered between 2005 and 2010. Detectives first began gathering evidence for operation 'China Truck' in 2011.

Authorities said members of his gang would hand out a business card to firms they wanted to take over that read: "If you go to my current you will live, if you go against my current, you will die!"

The suspects originally come from the Zhejiang and Fujian eastern coastal provinces in China.