In the largest crackdown of its kind, Italian law enforcement has arrested 33 alleged members of a “Chinese mafia” responsible for trafficking Chinese products into Europe, as well as running clandestine gambling dens, night clubs, prostitution rings, and drug dealing.
The coordinated raids early Thursday morning were the culmination of an international investigation called “Operation China Truck” that began 2 years ago, whose epicentre was the district of Prato, outside Florence, Italy. Mobile teams from Italy’s Central Operations Service (SCO) led raids in Prato, Rome, Florence, Milan, Padua and Pisa, resulting in the Thursday’s arrests.
Italian media report that the Chinese mafia has had a virtual monopoly in the traffic of goods of Chinese origin in all of Europe, to the tune of hundreds of millions of euros. Investigators said that the mafia group obtained its monopoly by creating a climate of terror within the Chinese community, using blackmail, extortion, and physical aggression.
While 33 Chinese citizens were arrested, another 21 suspects are still at large. The criminal organization originates from the Chinese province of Fujian, but also involves members from the Zhejiang province, reports stated.
The alleged leader of the organization is 57-year-old Zhang Naizhong, a resident of Rome, and his right-arm operative Lin Guochun (called Lin Lao), who officially resides in the Fujiang region of China, but in reality has been the mafia’s point man in Prato.
Zhang, who describes himself as “the boss”, imposed peace on two rival Chinese gangs whose wars had left over 60 dead in Prato between 2000 and 2010, bringing their members under his absolute control. Police said that Zhang used profits from his illegal activities to put together a massive trucking company that dominated the transport of goods for thousands of Chinese companies.
A mobile team of plainclothes police reportedly followed Zhang last Monday evening, during which time he visited several Chinese businesses accompanied by a troop of bodyguards, changing cars after every meeting. He had dinner in a restaurant and there he was visited by other people who bowed respectfully before him. After his arrest, police seized some 30,000 euros from Zhang’s home.
The investigation into the Chinese mafia extended beyond Italy into France, Spain, and Germany, in coordination with their respective police forces. The organization reportedly has operations in Paris, Neuss (Germany), and Madrid, besides its Italian activities.
National anti-mafia prosecutor Federico Cafiero De Raho held a press conference in the public prosecutor’s office in Florence Thursday morning, in which he briefed reporters on the nature of the police raids.
As part of the investigation, officials seized 8 business establishments, 8 motor vehicles, two buildings, and some sixty bank and securities accounts, totalling several million dollars in assets.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome