Italy police seize $330 million in mafia assets

Italy Mafia Arrests
Prosecutor Piero Grasso said the anti-mafia operation "showed the true face of criminality" in a southern Italian region.Donato Fasano / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Italian police have broken up a major mafia clan, issuing 83 arrest warrants and seizing businesses, land, race horses and a London-based online betting company, officials said Tuesday.

Local politicians and businessmen in the southern Italian city of Bari were among those implicated as part of a three-year operation, called "Domino," for collaborating with the Parisi clan, police said.

Police did not immediately provide the number of arrests or suspects still at large, but said the 48-year-old head of the clan, Savino Parisi, was arrested overnight along with his closest associates. They are accused of attempted homicide, drug trafficking, loan-sharking, interfering with the bidding process for public contracts and money laundering.

The confiscated assets total around euro 220 million ($330 million), officials said.

The operation "showed the true face of criminality" in the southern Puglia region, national anti-Mafia prosecutor Piero Grasso said.

"It's a criminality that is projected in investments, in businesses that suck part of the resources of this land and invests it abroad," Grasso said at a news conference.

In a separate operation, 11 other arrest warrants were issued in Sicily.

Parisi, whose wealth initially stemmed from an Italy-Serbian drug-trafficking ring, had recently been freed after serving a 14-year prison sentence and immediately restarted his criminal organization, police said.

'300 percent' interest rates
With his associates, he "acquired full control of the territory and accumulated enormous wealth through crimes of every genre: from stealing trucks to kidnapping and loan-sharking with interest rates up to 300 percent," police said.

The police statement said the former deputy mayor of the small city of Valenzano as well as the city assessor collaborated with Parisi, especially in his efforts to launder money through the construction of a euro 30 million ($45 million) university building for 3,500 students.

In addition, the Parisi clan successfully got a friendly businessman elected to the city council "to intervene whenever necessary," police said.

The assets seized included the London-based Paradise Bet, described by police as one of the most important British online betting sites.

The arrests came as police cracked down on two other organized crime groups elsewhere in southern Italy.

In Palermo, Sicily, police issued arrest warrants against 11 people accused of helping longtime Cosa Nostra fugitive Salvatore Provenzano elude capture. Provenzano was ultimately arrested in 2006. One of his closest collaborators, identified by the Italian news agency ANSA as Simone Castello, 60, was arrested near Madrid, police said.

Separately in Naples, police seized euro 20 million ($30 million) in assets Tuesday, including a textile firm, land and apartments from the Somma-La Marca Camorra crime clan, a statement said.