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Experts Cite Growing Power of Crime Syndicate in Southern Italy

The 'Ndrangheta, an increasingly ruthless Italian crime syndicate, did almost $69 billion in criminal business in 2007, according to forensic investigators. Crime experts say the gang has overtaken the Sicilian Mafia as Italy's largest drug trafficking group. Sabina Castelfranco reports for VOA from Rome.

Crime experts and magistrates in Italy say the organized crime organization 'Ndrangheta, based in the southern Italian region of Calabria, has been gaining strength, and has become increasingly international. They say it has spread its tentacles throughout Europe and beyond.

A recent report by the Italian research group, Eurispes, says the criminal syndicate has interests that range from drugs and extortion to gun running and prostitution and has also been getting a hold on illegal immigration.

Eurispes says in its latest report that the 'Ndrangheta, which translates as the "Honored Society," did almost $69 billion worth of criminal business last year. The research group's president Gian Maria Fara says the criminal gang is becoming more powerful and is spreading overseas.

Fara says the syndicate is present and strong in North America and Canada, in South America, and in Australia. It is also present in northern Europe and has effectively become a real business conglomerate.

Fara adds that one of the syndicate's characteristics is that it is very difficult to penetrate to learn how it operates.

He says 'Ndrangheta turncoats are very rare because of the nature of the crime group and its manner of enlisting members does not lead to many turning state's evidence. Its structure is nearly always strictly family-based.

An anti-Mafia prosecutor in the Calabrian city of Cantanzaro, Mario Spagnuolo, says illegal immigration has been getting growing attention from the 'Ndrangheta. He says the crime group has struck deals with international groups to expand into the illegal immigration racket.

The magistrate says local organized crime has been managing the flows of illegal immigrants, directing them into the black-labor market and into prostitution.

Raffaele Rio, head of the Eurispes office in Calabria, says the 'Ndrangheta is becoming a big player in the global illicit drug market.

Rio says that to optimize its resources and increase profits the 'Ndrangheta cuts out middlemen and has started dealing directly with South America's drug cartels, particularly the Colombians.

A national anti-Mafia prosecutor based in Calabria, Vincenzo Macri, says the 'Ndrangheta's drug business in 2007 represented almost two-thirds of its total illegal profits and this is on the rise.

Euripes researcher Rio says the organization is growing increasingly militarized.

He says that in various operations carried out by investigators, large quantities of arms were found. This, he says, is evidence that a strong process of militarization is under way.

Italian crime investigators have been warning for several years about 'Ndrangheta's growing influence, both in Italy and abroad. Deputy U.S. Attorney General Mark Filip said last week the group is becoming a real headache for American law enforcement authorities.