The mobsters also preyed on businesses.
Near Switzerland, the police said, in the provinces of Como and Varese, they at first offered their skills to local entrepreneurs to help them avoid paying taxes and make larger profits — but then they threatened them, extorting money and eventually taking over their companies. Investigators in the area seized assets believed to be owned by the ’Ndrangheta with a value of over 2.5 million euros, or $2.9 million.
In one conversation wiretapped by the police, a mobster in northern Italy introduced another member of the network as a “good Christian — he was baptized with the sword, you know?” The reference was to the initiation rituals of Calabrian mafia families.
“This whole area belongs to us,” one man was overheard saying in another wiretap, as he stood next to trucks and containers at the port of Gioia Tauro, the largest maritime hub in southern Italy. “I am in charge here and they have to bow down.”
Prosecutors are also investigating the role of two local officials, the former mayor of a town near Como and one of his council members, who they say are believed to have met with the ’Ndrangheta mobsters in Calabria.
“Those who approach these people out of difficult circumstances or in the illusion to make good gains should know that they are playing with fire,” Riccardo Targetti, a prosecutor in Milan, said at a news conference on Tuesday.
The mobsters did not limit their activities to Italy, the authorities said.
In Switzerland, the canton of St. Gallen has become a “logistical base” for them, the police said in a statement. Some organization members live there and deal drugs coming from Italy. The country’s laws are less severe when it comes to punishing a series of crimes, including mafia association.
“In Switzerland you can live,” one mobster was heard observing in a wiretap. “Not like in Italy, where they put you in jail for life.”