Police operation against the Nigerian mafia, in L'Aquila, April 2021 | Photo: ANSA/POLICE PRESS OFFICE
Police operation against the Nigerian mafia, in L'Aquila, April 2021 | Photo: ANSA/POLICE PRESS OFFICE

A massive police operation against the Nigerian mafia in Italy that was carried out in 14 provinces led to the arrests of 30 foreign citizens. The leader of the organization, who arrived on a migrant boat from Libya in 2014, was also caught.

Thirty foreigners were arrested on Monday (April 26) as part of an Italian police operation against the Nigerian mafia called "Black Axe" in 14 provinces across the country, including L'Aquila in Abruzzo, where the investigation originated.

The arrests include a total of nearly 100 charges of mafia-style criminal association, aimed at carrying out various crimes including drug trafficking, illegal immigration, exploitation of prostitution, romantic fraud, computer fraud, and money laundering, including with the purchase and sale of bitcoin.

The Italy boss of one of the most important organizations in the Nigerian mafia was among the arrested.

In addition to the 30 preventive detention orders, 25 house searches were carried out in the provinces included in the investigation, which was coordinated by the L'Aquila district anti-mafia prosecutor's office.

'Economic' criminality with 'modern methods'

The L'Aquila district anti-mafia prosecutor's office said the organization was involved in a type of criminality that is "economic with modern methods".

It uses computer fraud driven by illegally obtained funds to carry out a series of money-laundering operations in personal property (purchases made on e-commerce websites) and real estate (property in Nigeria) for a seemingly legitimate parallel global economy that damages the Italian economic system.

In addition to the 30 suspects arrested, another 25 Nigerians are under investigation for mafia-style association aimed at carrying out various crimes.

The 35-year-old boss of the organization lived in L'Aquila, and in two and a half years he committed frauds totaling about a million euros. He reportedly arrived in Italy on a migrant boat from Libya and disembarked in Pozzallo (Ragusa) in 2014 and ended up in L'Aquila.

Police followed the boss for two years and were thus able to reconstruct the complex business, which extended to the provinces of Rome, Rieti, Bari, Caserta, Naples, Reggio Emilia, Parma, Modena, Catania, Genoa, Messina, Potenza and Terni. Police identified the national heads of the organization and the members of the branches in various Italian cities.

Police said those under investigation committed numerous crimes, mainly cybercrime.

One particular computer fraud involved the purchase of bitcoin to buy cloned credit cards on the darknet that were used to purchase goods and services on e-commerce websites.

'Struck most by property aspect'

Francesco Messina, director of the Italian state police anti-crime centre, explained the operation at a press conference in L'Aquila. "The peculiarity of this operation that struck us the most was the property aspect of the criminal activity, a significant derivative in the field of money laundering," Messina said.

"The organization, however, didn't at all disdain drug trafficking, prostitution and panhandling. The latter of these was practiced outside supermarkets, in fact it was one of the initiatory steps. These Nigerian organizations are increasingly dangerous; in Campania they are already on an equal level with the homegrown Camorra mafia," he said.


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