Police investigate 'mafiosi' in Lancashire

Dossier of intelligence on five suspects sent to detectives in Italy
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The Independent Online

Apart from a certain pride in making cheese and an affinity with football, Lancashire and Naples would seem to have little in common. Now it seems that the Italian city and its Campania region have exported a less attractive element of their culture to northern England – a thriving Mafia network.

Lancashire police confirmed yesterday that they were investigating a group of suspected mafiosi living in the county with active links to crime groups in southern Italy which are being investigated for money laundering and witness intimidation.

The Independent understands that a dossier of intelligence accumulated over 18 months by British detectives has been sent to their Italian counterparts about five individuals living apparently innocuous lives in towns and villages across Lancashire. It is understood the investigation relates to offences committed abroad, suggesting that a corner of England more commonly associated with the capers of Wallace and Gromit is being used as a bolthole by professional gangsters operating at the "highest level" of organised crime.

The revelation follows the arrests of Giuseppe Persico and Gennaro Panzuto, both 34, who were alleged to be senior members of the Camorra – the Mafia network that operates around Naples and which is blamed for causing the crisis with uncollected waste on the city's streets through its control of the refuse business.

The two men lived 30 miles apart in Lancashire. Panzuto, the head of a powerful clan within the Camorra, fled a feud with a rival clan which had resulted in the deaths of 20 people to live in Catterall, north of Preston. Persico, who was working for a removal firm and lived in Chorley, south of Manchester, was arrested at Faro airport in Portugal on drug-trafficking charges in October last year and was subsequently extradited to Italy.

A spokesman for Lancashire Police said: "We are convinced that there are people in Lancashire who have knowledge about individuals that are linked to the Italian mafia. These people could be involved in serious and organised crime at the highest level. I would ask anyone who knows who these people are, or has any information that could help with our inquiries, to contact us." It is thought that family links may have led to Lancashire being chosen by Mafia-linked individuals seeking a corner of Europe to lie low. Certainly, Lancashire and the North-west have been unusually prominent in the Mafia diaspora in recent years. Panzuto, a father-of-two, was arrested less than 10 miles from the home of Marisa Merico, the daughter of the mob boss Emilio Digiovine, who was convicted in 1995 of laundering £1.9m of Mafia money.

Ann Hathaway, a Manchester housewife who married a Sicilian Mafia boss, was extradited to Italy to face claims that she helped her husband to run his crime empire while he was in prison. After agreeing a deal with Italian prosecutors and receiving a suspended prison sentence, she returned to the suburb of Middleton, Rochdale.

There is no suggestion that the two women are linked to the current investigation, although it is understood the 18-month inquiry by Lancashire officers involves individuals who have lived in Britain for many years. Panzuto was arrested at gunpoint in 2007 at his rented house in Catterall. He was extradited to Italy to face charges including attempted murder and illegal possession of weapons. Italian officers said he was also suspected of using Mafia money to set up a network of shops in Manchester and London used to launder cash.