Monday, 18 August 2008

Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafiabunkers with beds, bathrooms with running water, jacuzzis, CCTV to view the surface, internet and satellite links

special Italian police unit raiding the house in a mountain hamlet in Calabria had come for a fugitive mafia boss. But what they found was more James Bond than The Godfather.

Hidden in a niche in the wall of an innocuous ground-floor room was an aperture for a compressed air pistol which, when fired, caused the floor to lower slowly, revealing a lift giving access to a secret bunker 3m below ground level.

Welcome to San Luca, stronghold of the 'Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia that has quietly outpaced Sicily's Cosa Nostra and the Naples Camorra to build an estimated turnover of €36 billion ($94.93 billion), winning a stranglehold over Europe's cocaine trade, all managed by invisible bosses hiding from police manhunts and clan feuds in subterranean bunkers.
"We are turning up bunkers with beds, bathrooms with running water, jacuzzis, CCTV to view the surface, internet and satellite links," said Colonel Valerio Giardina of the Carabinieri, which has this year raided 15 bunkers.
search for underground hideaways has focused on San Luca after a long-standing blood feud between two clans, the Nirta-Strangio and Pelle-Vottari, boiled over into the gunning down last August of six men linked to the Pelle-Vottari outside a pizzeria in Duisburg, Germany.Recent arrests of 'Ndrangheta drug runners in Toronto and Australia are also a reminder of the mob's reach, built on its role as trusted broker to Colombia's cocaine producers and run as an al Qaeda-type collection of loosely linked cells overseas, which in turn answer to a federation-like structure in Calabria with no single ruling godfather.
"The 'Ndrangheta cells abroad are clones of those in Calabria," said magistrate Nicola Gratteri. "The organisation cannot be monolithic, since it has joint ventures with the Mafia and with Colombian cartels abroad, but the cells abroad ultimately answer to the bosses in Calabria."
The bunkers built for those bosses come in two categories, said Giardina, starting with shipping containers buried in open country. "These often have two or three escape tunnels," he said. Police shinning down ropes from a helicopter last year found boss Giuseppe Bellocco in one such rural bunker, watching TV from a bed next to a fridge loaded with wine, beer and lobster.
San Luca boasts the second type: townhouse bunkers, accessed by trapdoors hidden in family homes behind fake kitchen appliances or under floors on sliding rails.
Giardina said in Plati police discovered "a city underneath a city" in 2001. "It was a complex of 12 bunkers, connected to each other and to escape hatches by a kilometre of Vietcong-style tunnels," he said. Five fugitives were found, including one who had been on the run for 14 years.
The underground network in Plati, built with the agreement of friendly councillors, was used in the 1980s to hold kidnap victims that gave the 'Ndrangheta the ransom money to get started in the drug trade.


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