15 May, 2017
A mafia clan has been in charge of one of Italy's largest migrant reception centers for an entire decade, police have revealed.
Almost 70 people, including a priest, were arrested in dawn raids this morning, amid allegations the 'Ndrangheta mafia infiltrated the centre in the south of the country.
According to the investigators, the suspects infiltrated the large migrant reception center at Isola di Capo Rizzuto and siphoned off state funds through the complex, which is linked to a Catholic charity.
"Some 32 million euros ($35 million) went straight into the clan's pocket", assistant prosecutor Vincenzo Luberto said.
Misericordia runs a local reception centre for asylum seekers that is one of the biggest in Europe. The head of the Misericordia association in Isola Capo Rizzuto, Leonardo Sacco, and parish priest Edoardo Scordio, were among those detained.
Police believe that it was thanks to Sacco that the clan won contracts for supplying catering and other services to the centre, allowing it to syphon of millions of euros of European Union funding destined for the migrants' care.
Operation "Jonny", coordinated by the District Anti-Mafia Directorate in the Calabrese province of Catanzaro, involved more than 500 police officers and was aimed against the Arena clan, which allegedly belongs to the "Ndrangeta", one of the three branches of Italian organized crime.
"This operation shows the ability of the mafia to take advantage of the weaknesses and fragility of our times with its predatory and parasitic approach", she added. The state gives it some 16 million euros ($17.5 million) a year to house and feed the migrants.
The clan reportedly made millions through its involvement in the running of a reception centre for migrants in Isola di Capo Rizzuto, Calabria - one of the largest in the country.
The Calabrian centre had always been on the authorities' radar: In 2015 Italy's L'Espresso magazine published an investigative report alleging that managers at the camp were stealing funds earmarked for migrants and making money by starving them.
Crotone prefecture, where the center is located, said in 2014 that it appeared the number of people registered at the facility had been inflated, with management pocketing funds for "ghost" migrants.
L'Espresso said it had got hold of a police report putting the figure at over 10,000 euros a day. An inspection in 2013 revealed that refugees were eating small portions of expired food, and that the center was illegally hosting 70 unaccompanied minors in aircraft hangars where there were only two toilets.
Italy has been one of the countries hardest hit by the worst migrant crisis since World War II, due to its easy proximity for those arriving by boat from North Africa.
More than half a million migrants have reached Italy since 2014, mostly by boat from neighbouring Libya.