Dozens of people were arrested Thursday, including a Rolls Royce-riding oil heiress, as Italian police disrupted a massive fuel fraud by mafia groups.
“Operation PetrolMafias” nabbed over 50 suspects as police seized nearly 1 billion euros in assets linked to mafia money laundering and tax fraud through oil products.
Allegedly carried out by different clans within the Naples’ Camorra and Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta syndicates, the various schemes underscored the “nefarious synergy between mafias and white-collar criminals,” said prosecutors in a statement.
Over 173 million euros were laundered in various oil-related schemes investigated by police since 2015, said prosecutors in Naples, Rome, and two provinces of Calabria at the tip of Italy’s boot where the ‘Ndrangheta crime organisation is firmly entrenched.
Over 1,000 police participated in the operation early Thursday, seizing property, businesses and cash worth nearly 1 billion euros ($1.19 billion).
The probe uncovered “the gigantic convergence” of different mafia groups that came together to illegally import and market fuel products while laundering proceeds via front men and shell companies.
Through fraudulently mislabelling imports or transports of petroleum products, suspects were able to avoid taxes, while a series of paper companies issuing fake payments for nonexistent supplies allowed the clans to launder money from their illegal activities.
In one ‘Ndrangheta diesel fuel scheme involving 12 companies, 5 fuel depots and 37 gas stations, fuel that had evaded excise and value-added tax was put on the market. In one year alone, from 2018 to 2019, suspects evaded paying 5.8 million euros in excise tax.
– Film, Fast Cars, and Cash –
In Naples and Rome, police targeted the “Moccia” clan, described as one of Italy’s “most powerful and dangerous” groups within the Naples-based Camorra crime syndicate. The clan is skilled at liaising with leading public and private sector figures to help invest illegally-gained proceeds into the legal economy, prosecutors said.
In another scheme, the clan allegedly teamed with a former singer and widow of an oil entrepreneur, Anna Bettozzi, whose inherited business was struggling. Laundered cash injections from the Camorra, and shell companies supplying fake invoices, helped grow her oil business from 9 million euros to 370 million euros in three years, prosecutors said.
Bettozzi, among those arrested Thursday, was found with 300,000 euros in cash when she was stopped in 2019 in a Rolls Royce on her way to the Cannes Film Festival, they said. Another 1.4 million in cash was later seized from her Milan hotel.
The investigation into the oil fraud schemes of the ‘Ndrangheta groups are related to a massive operation against the mafia group in December 2019 that resulted in the arrest of over 300 people.
Most of those nabbed in what amounted to the biggest police swoop in years against clans in Calabria’s Vibo Valentia area currently face judges in a “maxi-trial” to answer for crimes including murder, drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering and abuse of office.