Members of the Italian Senate, a place where opinions often diverge, Tuesday in an unusual sign of unity paused to applaud the news that had reached them: Police said that 80-year-old Domenico Oppedisano, purportedly the No. 1 figure of the 'Ndrangheta, one of Italy's most feared organized crime groups, was arrested in the early morning hours in Calabria as part of a massive anti-mafia raid.
All in all, the roughly 3,000 police officers involved in the operation arrested more than 300 people. Among others, the suspects include business people as well as a senior public health official. Charges against them range from money laundering, murder, arms and drug trafficking to extortion.
Most of the suspects were arrested in southern Calabria, where the 'Ndrangheta has its base but others were detained in Lombardy, northern Italy, around the financial and fashion capital Milan. Police said they seized money, real estate, weapons and drugs worth millions of dollar.
"This is one of the most important operations against the 'Ndrangheta in recent years," Italy's Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said in a statement.
The 'Ndrangheta in recent years rose to become one of Italy's most active organized crime groups, boosted by successful drug operations between Latin America and Europe.
Figures from Italian economic group SOS Impresa indicate that the revenue generated by Italy's main mafia clans -- which besides the 'Ndrangheta includes the Cosa Nostra from Sicily and other groups -- rose 4 percent to $165 billion in 2009, almost 9 percent of Italy's gross domestic product.
It became clear that the 'Ndrangheta had branched out into Western Europe when a shooting involving 'Ndrangheta members in the western German city of Duisburg in 2007 left six Italians dead.
Authorities said Tuesday's success was based on extensive use of wire-tapping, an investigation method the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has criticized and aims to restrict.
Berlusconi's government coalition argues that extensive wire-tapping violates privacy rights but critics say the proposed restrictions are aimed at shielding politicians, including Berlusconi himself, from embarrassing revelations or even criminal prosecution.
Berlusconi came under fire last year after leaked tapes and transcripts allegedly revealing he had invited prostitutes to his private parties and spent extensive time and money on them.