The reach of Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta mafia extends throughout Central and South America, and the criminal organization, among the most powerful in the world, has become one of the main European allies of Latin American narcotraffickers, InSight Crime, an organization dedicated to the study of organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, said in a series of late 2022 reports.
This structure promotes the continuity of illicit activities. “The ‘Ndrangheta’s decentralized operations give clans the flexibility to adapt to head or leadership losses, while limiting the consequences for the network as a whole,” InSight Crime indicated.
‘Ndrangheta has used the Italian port of Gioia Tauro as a gateway for cocaine into Europe since the 1990s. But in recent years, as Gioia Tauro has lost its importance as a hub for the trade of legal and illegal goods, traffickers are turning to Europe’s largest ports, such as Antwerp and Rotterdam.
“In 2021, Belgian and Dutch authorities in those two ports seized 89 and 70 tons of cocaine respectively, far more than the 13 tons seized in Gioia Tauro,” InSight Crime said.
Cartels and paramilitaries
In recent years, ‘Ndrangheta has been linked to numerous criminal groups in Latin America, Sergi said. Among those, the Colombian paramilitary group Los Urabeños, better known as the Clan del Golfo, factions of Brazil’s First Capital Command (PCC), but also criminal groups such as the Cali and Medellín cartels, Los Zetas from Mexico, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). According to InSight Crime, some members of the ‘Ndrangheta have been arrested on drug trafficking charges in virtually every country in Latin America.
With the ‘Ndrangheta’s increased presence in Latin America, local and regional authorities have stepped up efforts to combat this transnational criminal organization. On October 26, 2022, for instance, members of the Argentine Federal Police (PFA) arrested Italian national Carmine Alfonso Maiorano, accused of being an ‘Ndrangheta leader.
“He is being investigated for being an alleged link between the mafia and its drug operations in Latin America,” Argentine news site Infobae reported. The PFA Anti-Mafia Department captured Maiorano following months of intelligence and surveillance work at a home in Guernica, Buenos Aires province.
Meanwhile, in August 2022, the Brazilian Federal Police (PF) captured another member of the ‘Ndrangheta in Goiás state. The man, whose name has not been released, was accused of shipping cocaine to Italy hidden among granite floors from a port in Brazil’s Espírito Santo state. “[He is] a criminal known to European authorities, an Italian, and a member of the feared ‘Ndrangheta, a mafia organization that controls an important part of the cocaine trafficking bound for Europe,” the PF said in a statement.
The capture was made possible thanks to cooperation between PF agents and the Guardia di Finanza, Italy’s financial police. “The investigations began with information obtained from Italy, following the seizure of 338 kilograms of cocaine in the port of La Spezia and the arrest of four people red-handed — a Brazilian, an Italian, and two Albanians — in December 2020,” CNN Brazil reported.
Cooperation between Latin American authorities and INTERPOL has been fundamental in the fight against the ‘Ndrangheta in the region. In July 2022, for example, Italian Rocco Morabito was extradited from Brazil to Italy accompanied by Italian agents belonging to the INTERPOL Cooperation Against ‘Ndrangheta.
“Morabito is considered one of the top international brokers and one of the most wanted fugitives in the world, according to the Italian Ministry of the Interior,” INTERPOL said in a statement. “The extradition follows intense cooperation between INTERPOL’s National Central Bureaus in Brazil and Italy.”
“The extradition of Rocco Morabito sends a powerful message: However strong the criminal web of mafia groups may be, our global police network is stronger,” said Giovanni Bombardieri, chief prosecutor of the Antimafia Prosecution Office of Reggio Calabria, a city in Italy.