Italian and US authorities have uncovered a 30-strong network run by the Calabrian mafia that specialized in smuggling cocaine from South America to New York and southern Italy.

A joint surveillance operation saw 30 of its affiliates being charged with international drug smuggling offences. At least three people – among them a Calabrian man running an Italian restaurant in the Queens district – were arrested, Italian police said Thursday.

The New York restaurant acted as a front for the drug smuggling business, Italian authorities said.

Italian and US police saw the restaurant owner overseeing the arrival of a cocaine shipment in an unnamed US port on Columbus Day, an October 12 US public holiday marking the anniversary of the arrival of Italy-born Christopher Columbus in the Americas.

For this reason, the joint operation involving the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security in the US was called “Columbus.”

The Calabrian mob is known as the ‘Ndrangheta. It is one of the world’s most powerful and secretive crime groups, rivalling Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, and is specialized in drugs and arm smuggling, money laundering and construction.

“With today’s operation we have delivered a harsh blow to international drug trafficking,” Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said.

“The [Italian] state has scored another important success, dismantling a criminal organization falling under the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta, which had branches also in the United States of America,” he added.

Italy and the US have a long history of anti-mafia cooperation, starting with the notorious “Pizza Connection” case of the late 1970s and early 1980s – which inspired the Hollywood film Donnie Brasco.



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