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An unidentified man doffs his hat, as he rides in a Carabinieri (Paramilitary police) car after being arrested in Reggio Calabria, southern Italy, July 13, 2010, following one of the biggest operations ever against the powerful 'ndrangheta crime organization.

Suspect, giving the finger with the Fedora

For several days the top anti-Mafia bloggers in Italy have refrained from posting, in solidarity with a media strike to protest Berlusconi’s “gag”  bill which if enacted, will inhibit media access to information on ongoing criminal investigations. Some 50,000 demonstrators took to the streets in Rome over the weekend.

Yesterday, a huge arrest of Calabrian Mafia took place which included picking up  the Calabrian godfather, Domenico Oppedisano-“il Capo di Capi”– the chief of chiefs, head of all of the southern clans.

The wire services  provided a mainstream account of the arrests, noting that the Italian government has issued reports that the organization– the ‘Ndragheta– is organized hierarchically, with great sophistication like the Cosa Nostra, as opposed to being a loose federation of families as has been thought.  The complexity of mob hierarchy historically has prevented getting the cancer at the root.

There were no posts on the Calabrian anti-Mafia  blogs  yesterday about the bust– evidently because the underground bloggers and journalists  obtained copies of the government’s report, have their own sources, and were feverishly writing up stories.

Accordingly a detailed and fascinating post on the Calabrian anti-Mafia coalition La Rete’s blog today discusses an interesting character referred to as “The Oracle,” a businessman and accountant, who appears to be operating as in insider within the Carbinieri and the special forces, the ROS, as well as being cozy with the Mafia to the extent that he warned them of the sweep five hours in advance.

This guy is an amazing operative.  Quotes from the investigation, in virtually incomprehensible Calabrese dialect, show him playing smoothly to the invesitagors, all the while alluding to the fact that the ‘ndragheta “are the worst pigs in the world” and yet is predictably so vast that the coup of the arrest  is not a coup.

A somewhat rough translation of the La Rete post on The Oracle follows (I really did try….):

“The Oracle of Reggio has a name and a surname. John Zumbo, a businessman and accountant Reggio class 67 was the “oracle” of the Ndrangheta. He innformed members of the “society” of the investigation against them and operations that were to be carried out against them shortly beforehand..

Much emerges from the intercepted conversations that the same Zumbo had with the members of the Ficara and Pelle clans and the head cheese Domenico Oppedisano.

By not being part of the organization, Zumbo reinforced it with the right information and predictions; in particular, shortly before the operation Reale, the accountant had guaranteed boss Giuseppe Pello that he could announce the beginning of the bust five hours in advance.

All of this means, in fact, that Zumbo functioned like a true oracle; a procession of ndranghetisti was  kept from leaving their residences during a search and were  subsequently arrested, according to information about the investigation by the police and judicial officials.

This is disturbing because Zumbo, not being personally involved in the investigation, has to have obtained information in another manner.
He called himself, in conversation with Pelle in the apartment of the latter, “lo sbirro.” — the cop.  The same Zumbo, apparently, was aware of the Patriarch operation, a very big branch of the Crimine,  which he personally knew by name– which gangs would be involved and above all that the investigators were rushing to intercept the Polsi summit (convocation of Calabrian mobsters) of 2007.

“We heard this “sotto voce” at the Lady of the Mountain, when we refuted new charges, around 2006; we heard this, (yet)we made films, started a bordello…” said Ficara,  talking with Zumbo.
From Ficara’s words, therefore, emerges that the news was immediately diffused to the interior of the organization and and for this reason a series of persons from the area of Milano were already untraceable….

And still Ficara denies:  “Ah these charges…, what things.  At the end of the previous year I was ignorant of these things.  I did not have, nor did I know… I didn’t know that these existed.  Then one by one the little scams like this.  I have said no…We have dealt with all the microscopic bugs.”

In sum the ndranghetisti knew everything regarding the investigation and were still not worried.  And the same Ficara that spoke with Pelle about the Patriarchy operation and reassured him of the reliability of his sources, or better, of those of Zumbo, asserts that  “two or three people know that I am ROS and they know that I am Secret Service.”

So John Zumbo was the informant through a system of information to the Ndrangheta, while the source was another.

Zumbo, however, was well aware of the personal qualities of his associates; he himself says: “I’m still part of a system that is much, much more extensive than that … … but I tell you one thing and see that I speak it in all honesty. “

“These are worst pigs in the world.   And I am an honest person and I know to be honest.  Many times what one should do is done and what one shouldn’t isn’t done, because I can’t avoid it, but I feel sure that if I don’t, the “cold” will come!”

-trans jra July 14, 2010

The intercepted conversation demonstrates the Mafia’s “coldness”– liberally “whacking” those in its way– that it laughs in the face of all attempts to shut it down.  The “Oracle” himself is crafty enough to be untouchable, and a braggard.  Hats are off to the bloggers who have the cajones to post the not so subtle realities of what it means to try to put a dent in organized crime in southern Italy.  The chokehold continues.

Those of you who believe in synchronicity might find it interesting that I was working on my novel yesterday, writing about an undercover Calabrian operation netting big fish, with of course, absolutely no idea that something big was going down on the other side of the world even as I was imagining it!   Quel chance.    History is writing itself and falling into my hands even as I explore what it might be like to be dealing with all of this in person living in a fishing town on the toe of the boot as an expat writer drawn into all of it. ???

Meanwhile I’m posting the Guardian’s story on the bust:

“Italian police arrest 300 in raids on Calabrian mafia:  alleged godfather of ‘Ndrangheta, 80-year-old Domenico Oppedisano, held and assets worth millions of euros seized

Tom Kingston in Rome
July 13, 2010

Italian police mounted one of the biggest crackdowns ever on the shadowy ‘Ndrangheta mafia today, seizing assets worth millions of euros and arresting 300 people including the organisation’s alleged boss of bosses.

The raids, in which 3,000 officers took part, were part of an investigation which has allowed a glimpse of the Calabrian mafia’s new pyramid power structure and exposed its creeping control over businesses and politicians in northern Italy, where 160 of the arrests were carried out.

The Italian senate stood to applaud the arrests, which were described by the interior minister, Roberto Maroni, as “absolutely the most important operation against the ‘Ndrangheta in recent years”.

The arrests of leading members of many of the group’s 150 clans, on charges ranging from murder to drugs and arms trafficking to loan sharking, was a blow “to the heart of the ‘Ndrangheta’s organisational and financial structure,” added Maroni.

Once a poor relation of Sicily’s Cosa Nostra and the Neapolitan Camorra, the ‘Ndrangheta started life kidnapping for ransom and hiding its victims in the mountainous wilds of Calabria before it entered the cocaine trade in partnership with Colombian cartels and built its revenue to an estimated €44bn, equal to the combined GDP of Slovenia and Estonia.

With clan affiliation based on blood lines, turncoats have been rare and the ‘Ndrangheta has kept a low profile, with the notable exception of the massacre of six men in Duisberg, Germany, in a clan feud in 2008.

Magistrates believed the group was organised in a loose, federation with no overall leader. But after yesterday’s dawn raids investigators said they now believe that, as it has grown, the ‘Ndrangheta has adopted a pyramid-shaped hierarchy similar to Cosa Nostra, and was led by Domenico Oppedisano, 80, who was taken into custody in Rosarno, Calabria.

Oppedisano was reportedly appointed head of the organisation at the marriage of two children of bosses in August 2009 and assumed power at a banquet held at a shrine to the Madonna last September. In one wiretapped conversation he talked of 1,000 affiliates attending one mob congress.

Oppedisano was “the reference point for the entire organisation”, brokering peace among factions in the south and dividing up public works contracts in northern Italy, police said.

But wiretaps also revealed him to be a consensus seeker.

“For the love of God, when you make a proposal, you listen to the others to see what they think,” he told one mobster.

Oppedisano’s rule extended to Genoa where his local commander, fruit and vegetable trader Domenico Gangemi, was arrested, and to Milan, the new economic hub for the ‘Ndrangheta, where mob-backed businesses have allegedly sought building contracts for the city’s Expo in 2015. In a region that has traditionally ridiculed the south for its fear of the mafia, local businesses were too scared to inform the police of any of hundreds of episodes of intimidation and extortion uncovered by investigators.

Mob justice was equally tough on dissidents within the ranks. In 2008, Milan boss Carmelo Novella was murdered in a bar after he sought to break free from the control of his elders in Calabria.

Investigators said that in addition to the arrest of the mob’s current number one in Lombardy, Pino Neri, a number of local politicians, a health authority chief and four police men were under investigation for collaborating with the ‘Ndrangheta.

Such was the mob’s sense of impunity in the north that a get together last October was held in a hall named after Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, a pair of magistrates murdered by the Sicilian mafia.Despite speaking in thick dialect to thwart police wiretappers, today’s ‘Ndrangheta mobsters are polished gangsters, said Calabria-based magistrate Giuseppe Pignatone. “This is the second and third generation,” he said. “They are graduates and can count on a network of professionals, bureaucrats and politicians and therefore have the ability to infiltrate any part of Italy and abroad.”