The seemingly unstoppable spread of Italy's most powerful organised crime group has now seen it establish outposts in the UK and Ireland, according to anti-mafia judges.
Fuelled by its control of a €27 billion-a year-cocaine business, the 'ndrangheta mafia, with its roots in the southern Italian region of Calabria, has begun to colonise London and Dublin, warn the Reggio Calabria magistrates in key reports.
The documents, including the 'Crimine' and 'Crimine 2' probes into 'ndrangheta activity, reveal the astonishing extent to which the crime cartel has established itself around Europe.
In London, the Aracri and Fazzari clans are thought to be active in the money laundering, catering and drug trafficking. The level of the activity in the UK and Ireland is low relative to continental Europe. But given the group's ruthlessness and ambition, few experts doubt that its presence in the British Isles will increase as it has in other European countries.
Earlier this year, authorities in the south of France warned that the notoriously violent group, which sprang to public attention following the internecine murders of six members outside a pizza restaurant in Duisberg, Germany, 2007, was colonising France's Cote d'Azur, with bases in Marseilles, Monte Carlo, Nice and Menton. 'ndrangheta activity in Barcelona has also risen significantly
"They control territory with extortion and intimidation as they do in Calabria or the urban outskirts of Milan, demanding protection money - and not only from Italian ex-pats," said Michele Prestipino, an anti-mafia prosecutor from Reggio Calabria.
"'ndrangheta is everywhere," the super-grass Luigi Bonaventura, said yesterday in a video interview with La Repubblica. "You only need two to three people to form a cell." Once the number of local mobsters reaches 50, the cell becomes a "locale".
"In Germany they have dozens of locali," Bonaventura said. "In Holland and Belgium they control the ports, in the Cote d'Azur they control the hotels, in Bulgaria investments in the tourist sector on the Black Sea, in the Balkans they control the drug routes."
Other informants have revealed how the crime syndicate is skilled at forming alliances with existing criminal groups before going on to exploit them. This cunning has been credited in a recent report by the Dutch police warning that over twenty senior 'ndrangheta figures and hundreds of their associates are now successfully trading in arms and drugs with authorities virtually unaware of their existence.
The lack of special anti-mafia laws outside of Italy make the rest of Europe fertile ground for 'ndrangheta clans. In Italy, convicted mobsters face long stretches in solitary confinement. And members can be jailed under the catch-all crime of "mafia association". This is not the case outside Italy.
Some observers have even noted how Germany, the biggest 'ndrangheta stronghold outside Italy, has assumed its increasingly familiar role of subsidising the activity of more workshy southern Europeans. The wives of jailed 'ndrangheta mobsters in Germany get state unemployment benefits of €365 a month. "And they don't even have to pay their rent. How is that possible?" said Vito Giudicepietro, a local union representative in the German town of Singen, which saw a huge influx of southern Italians in the late 1950s.
According to Magistrate Prestipino, the lack of anti-mafia laws "is the biggest obstacle". "In Europe, the institutions have trouble understanding the dangers of organised crime clans and their ability to intimidate," he told La Repubblica.