Details obtained by the Guardian reveal extent to which Sicilian mafia clans are migrating north after running into financial problems in Italy
Sicilian mafia clans are decamping north to Germany in search of business opportunities in response to poor economic conditions in southern Europe and an Italian government crackdown on organised crime.
Details obtained by the Guardian of a large-scale anti-drug operation in Germanys south-west reveal the extent to which mafia clans are said to have migrated to some of the wealthiest regions of Europes economic powerhouse after running into financial problems in Italy.
Nineteen suspected drug traffickers were arrested and 4m worth of goods and money seized in the south-western town of Villingen-Schwenningen on 21 June, in a joint raid by the Palermo branch of the Italian finance police and Germanys criminal investigation department.
The gang was allegedly operating mainly in Rottweil and Stuttgart in Baden-Wrttemberg, which borders France and Switzerland and has the lowest poverty rate of all of Germanys 16 states.
According to Italian authorities, the arrested mobsters smuggled tons of marijuana and cocaine from Albania to Germany and laundered the profits in slot machines that they forced owners of local bars and shops to install.
Italian police also suspect that profits from drug trafficking were used to buy weapons in the Balkans.
In 2016, a 300-strong team of investigators started using wiretaps and hidden cameras to track the suspects movements. One of the wiretaps seen by the Guardian records a drive-by shooting in May 2016 in which gang members are said to have shattered the window of a bar to intimidate an owner who had refused to install slot machines managed by the mafia.
Investigators say the drug traffickers were working in Germany at the service of the Mondino family, a Sicilian mafia gang based in Palermo in the Passo di Rigan neighbourhood.
The man in charge of the drug-smuggling and the money-laundering operations is believed to be a German-born Italian businessman who owns two restaurants in Baden-Wrttemberg. According to the Italian finance police in Palermo, the suspect has strong ties with several Sicilian mobsters.
Sicilys most powerful mafia gang, the Cosa Nostra, is also believed to have started expanding to Germany.
According to figures from the Italian ministry of the interior, 4,000 mobsters have been arrested in Sicily since 1990.
Sicilys construction work market, one of the most important mafia businesses in the region, has been severely hit by the economic crisis. According to ANCE, the Italian construction businessmen association, profits in the industry have dropped by 90% since 2007.
Unable to pay protection money, Sicilian shopkeepers and businessmen are said to be increasingly reporting approaches by the Cosa Nostra to the police.