An anti-mafia operation led to the seizure of over four tonnes of cocaine worth more than €800 million
The drug kingpin was just one of 36 arrested after 300 police officers carried out coordinated raids as part of a Europol operation against a highly professional criminal syndicate linked to the ‘Ndrangheta crime organisation based in Italy.
The Italian Financial Corps (Guardia di Finanza) dismantled the criminal network which relied on corrupt workers in the port of Gioia Tauro to smuggle hundreds of millions of euros’ worth of cocaine into Europe.
Property searches were also carried out in the provinces of Reggio Calabria, Vibo Valentia, Bari, Naples, Rome, Terni, Vicenza, Milan and Novara that resuled in dozens of arrests and the seizure of €7 million worth of criminal assets.
The arrests follow a complex investigation that identified a corrupt customs officer who allegedly altered the outcome of an x-ray scan performed on a container containing 300 kilos of cocaine. He is believed to have received a sum equivalent to 3 % of the value of the illicit cargo in return.
Italian investigators were also able to identify members of the ‘Ndrangheta, who would arrange for the cocaine to be shipped from South America.
Their investigation also led them to field coordinators, who would recruit and manage the corrupted dockers, paying them a commission varying between 7 to 20% of the value of the illegal cargo.
Complicit port operators who would arrange for the ‘contaminated’ containers to not be intercepted as they were being smuggled into the port of Gioia Tauro were also arrested.
Europol had developed reliable and crucial intelligence concerning the activities of the criminal network and had been working closely with Italian investigators to bring down the whole network.
The Head of the European Serious and Organised Crime Centre at Europol, Jari Liukku, said the investigation revealed how the ‘Ndrangheta is using corruption to enable its criminal activity and undermine law enforcement’s efforts.
“Europol sees the use of corruption, in the private or the public sector, as a major enabler of organised crime,” Liukku, said.
“ In this particular investigation we are very pleased to have joined forces with the Italian Guardia di Finanza to support them in fighting large-scale drug trafficking as well as corruption at an EU entry point. In this regard this investigation sets an example.”
One of those arrested, 48-year-old Imperiale, is considered one of the most important cocaine traffickers in the world.
The Camorra-linked Italian mobster who is a former part of a so-called ‘super-cartel’ along with the Kinahan cartel, the Dutch-Moroccan Mocro Mafia led by Ridouan Taghi, and the Balkan-based Tito and Dino cartel was extradited to Italy in March to face organised crime charges.
Imperiale, who is a close associate of Daniel Kinahan, was arrested last year at his luxurious desert bolt-hole in Dubai and was finally flown to Rome in March to face charges.
Ranked number two on Italy’s most wanted fugitive list, Imperiale was arrested last August as he basked with his family by a swimming pool at his luxury villa.
Imperiale later tried to claim his extradition from Dubai to Italy was a “kidnapping” and in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
It emerged that his lawyers had filed an appeal to request the cancellation of his detention, issued by the preliminary investigation judge at the request of the Antimafia Investigation Directorate.
Italian news outlet Metropolis reported that Imperiale’s lawyer, Fausto Brizzi, argued that he had effectively been kidnapped.
He said: “Imperiale lived in the United Arab Emirates, and the request for extradition to Italy was rejected by the Emirate court”.
After that court ruling, the Italian justice minister flew to UAE in February to request Imperiale’s extradition.
“Suddenly, on March 25, 2022, Imperiale was loaded on a plane and taken to Italy, where the report of the execution of the measure was drawn up in Ciampino [Rome] Airport”, he claimed.
The lawyer said the way the transfer occurred “violates the treaty between Italy and the United Arab Emirates the territorial sovereignty of the United Arab Emirates and the European Convention on Human Rights”,
“’Imperiale was the subject of a seizure in person [kidnapping]”.
An Italian court said there was no grounds to bring a direct appeal to the Supreme Court.
He is now expected to remain behind bars until his trial on organised crime offences. Italian authorities allege Imperiale was a top figure with the Amato-Pagano clan, a Camorra clan from Naples, and sourced drugs and weapons for the gang for over a decade.
He also forged wider international connections with Taghi and other super-cartel figures.
The super-cartel, most of whom were based in the United Arab Emirates, pooled their resources to arrange large drug shipments from South America into Europe.
Another cartel associate serving life in prison in the Netherlands for directing murders has been moved to a lighter prison regime sparking fears he will be able to direct criminal activities.
Naoufal Fassih (36), a Dutch national of Moroccan origin, was arrested during a raid on a Kinahan-linked safe-house on Baggot St, Dublin, in 2016 and extradited to the Netherlands where he was jailed for various offences including two murders.
He is a key associate of gang boss and fellow Kinahan associate Ridouan Taghi, who is currently on trial for organised offences.