VIA Daily Mail
Italian mobsters made millions from running one of the largest migrant reception centres in Europe, police have revealed. Nearly 70 people, including a priest, were arrested in dawn raids this morning, amid allegations the 'Ndrangheta mafia infiltrated the centre in the south of the country. It is claimed they used a Roman Catholic charity as a cover to cream off millions of euros in state funds.
Police seized goods and property worth 84 million euros (£71.4million) in the early morning sweep. Among those arrested were the head of the local Misericordia association, Leonardo Sacco. The association manages the Sant'Anna Cara immigrant centre in the town of Isola Capo Rizzuto.Also arrested was priest Edoardo Scordio, according to reports in Italy.
The fenced-in centre can house up to 1,200 migrants, and prosecutors claim managed to infiltrate the operation at least eight years ago, taking charge of key services such as catering and laundry.
Prosecutor Nocola Gatteri told a news conference: 'If 500 migrants had to have lunch, just 250 meals would arrive at the centre. The other 250 would either have to eat in the evening, or else the next day.
'In the meantime the head of the Misericordia, the priest and their friends grew fat, bought luxury cars, flats and boats.'
The Florence-based national Misericordia association said in a statement it had full faith in the judiciary and was placing the southern migrant centre under special administration.
Around 200,000 euros (£170,000) was found at the house of one man who had declared annual earnings of just 800 euros to the tax man, Gratteri said. The head of parliament's anti-mafia commission hailed the operation.
'The Cara of Isola Capo Rizzuto had become a money printing operation for organised crime thanks to the complicity of those who ran the centre,' Rosy Bindi said. 'This operation shows the ability of the mafia to take advantage of the weaknesses and fragility of our times with its predatory and parasitic approach,' she added.
Police said many of those arrested belonged to the Arena clan of the 'Ndrangheta mafia - Italy's largest organised crime group which is based in the region of Calabria and is one of Europe's biggest cocaine importers. The police statement said the Arena clan was also suspected of muscling in on the running of a migrant centre on the southern island of Lampedusa, which is on the front line of Italy's ongoing migrant crisis.
Italy has been a destination for seaborne migration for years. More than half a million have reached Italy in the latest wave since 2014, mostly by boat from neighbouring Libya.
The government has set up reception centres across the country to take care of the new arrivals, which are run by private entities and charities. The state spends some 16 million euros a year to house and feed the migrants at Isola Capo Rizzuto.
Last month Italy's justice minister said it was 'a lie' to paint humanitarian ships saving migrants in the Mediterranean as criminals, responding to a Sicilian prosecutor who has repeatedly suggested some are colluding with Libyan smugglers. Carmelo Zuccaro, the chief prosecutor of the Sicilian port city of Catania, has said he has evidence of phone calls between people smugglers and aid groups, but he has not opened a criminal investigation or presented his evidence.
The Catania court opened a fact-finding probe in February, saying traffickers may be funding non-governmental organizations involved in rescuing migrants who attempt the dangerous crossing from North Africa to Europe. NGOs have forcefully denied any wrongdoing and said their only objective is to save lives.
Justice Minister Andrea Orlando told la Repubblica: 'In general, it's not right to make the story of the NGOs working in the Mediterranean as a tale of collusion with people smugglers because it's a lie.'