Italian police seize €2bn in 'Ndrangheta mafia assets

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File photo dated 26/01/15 of Euro notes and coinsImage source, PA

Italian police have seized €2bn (£1.4bn, $2.2bn) of assets that belonged to a powerful mafia group in a series of raids.

The seizures included hundreds of betting shops owned by the 'Ndrangheta, who experts say are behind most of Europe's cocaine trade.

Police also issued 41 arrest warrants.

Italy's Interior Minister, Angelino Alfano, said the raids in the southern Calabria region were "a serious blow to the 'Ndrangheta".

Police said they had seized at least 1,500 betting shops, 82 gambling websites, 45 Italian companies and 11 foreign firms, as well as a large number of other properties.

Six of the companies were in Malta, they said. Two were in Spain, two in Romania and one was in Austria.

The gang "recycled an enormous amount of 'dirty' money through the use of gaming accounts assigned to willing or unwitting people," a police statement said.

"They bypassed the laws governing this sector, accumulating significant profits that were then reinvested in the acquisition of new companies and licences to further expand their activities," it added.

The 'Ndrangheta is a network of clans in the "toe" of Italy that dominates the country's cocaine trade.

It is one of the most powerful mafia organisations in Italy, along with the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and the Neapolitan Camorra.

Last year, while visiting Calabria - the 'Ndrangheta's base - Pope Francis criticised the group's "adoration of evil and contempt of the common good".

Two weeks ago, police seized more than €1.6bn in assets from five Sicilian siblings suspected of links to the mafia.