Italy and US smash 'pizza' drug ring

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ROME - Police from Italy and the United States yesterday arrested 78 people in a big operation they said had smashed an international drugs ring whose US base was a pizza parlour in Manhattan.

Italian investigators and American FBI agents said 29 people in both countries were still being sought in connection with the operation, codenamed 'Onig'. At least five of the suspects still at large were believed to be abroad, three of them in Colombia.

Some 200 kilos (440lb) of drugs were also seized in raids carried out overnight and yesterday morning in New York and several parts of Italy by more than 1,000 police.

Burdena Pasenelli, an assistant director of the FBI, told a news conference in Rome that the 28 suspects arrested so far in New York faced charges of narcotics conspiracy. 'Those arrested are specifically charged with operating a major international narcotics trafficking business which was run out of Famous Original Ray's Pizza located in midtown Manhattan, New York, and other locations,' she said.

According to investigators, the ring shipped large quantities of cocaine from Colombia - supplied by the country's Cali Cartel - to the US and to Italy. Heroin was smuggled into the US from Italy.

Italian officials said the ring had involved families from all three main Italian organised crime groups, the Sicilian Mafia, the Naples Camorra, and the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta.

Roberto Pennisi, a deputy public prosecutor from the Calabrian capital, Reggio Calabria, said the operation had exposed how the 'Ndrangheta had taken over from the Mafia as Italian crime's main international drugs trafficker.