In what may be an indication of the 'Ndrangheta mafia clan's growing influence, the entire city council of Reggio Calabria in Southern Italy was dissolved last week due to concerns that it was too deeply influenced by the 'Ndrangheta mafia.
This isn't the first time mob ties have led national authorities to clean house on the local level; in the past, other city councils have been dissolved for this reason. But this is the first time it happened to the council of a provincial capital.
Interior Minister Annamaria Cancellieri proposed the dissolution, and the Italian cabinet approved the move in a late-night cabinet meeting on Oct. 9. The next day, eight businessmen and politicians were arrested in Reggio Calabria on related charges, including the chief of the city's waste collection department and owners of a local trash collection company, according to local media reports
That trash collection company, Leonia, is alleged to be controlled by the 'Ndrangheta and a vessel for laundering illegal revenue.
An investigation by local police and prosecutors found that the business interests of suspected mafia members were too closely tied to government bodies, citing for instance the city's ownership of 51% of Leonia's shares. One local magistrate said that such public-private partnerships were "the new frontier for ties between mafia clans and economic and social fabric," according to media reports.
'Ndrangheta is known for drug trafficking and corrupt construction contracts.
The council members will now face trial, but even if found guilty they may not be barred from re-election. Most convictions would allow the members to run again for re-election in 18 months, and some are likely to do so, and win. Local elections in Southern Italy tend to be decided by party much more than candidate, or platform, so any members who remain supported by their parties won't have a hard time reclaiming their seats at the Council in 2014.
In the meantime, the city will be governed by three commissioners appointed by Interior Minister Annamaria Cancellieri.
In recent years, the 'Ndrangheta clan has expanded its influenced into Northern Italy, where on Wednesday police arrested 22 people in an anti-'Ndrangheta operation in the Lombardy region, according to media reports. Among those arrested was Domenico Zambetti, a regional councillor accused of paying the 'Ndrangheta €200,000 euros ($257,000) in cash to obtain 4,000 votes.
The clan has become considered the most powerful of Italy's four dominant mafia groups, and is thought to be expanding its reach far beyond its home turf. Reggio Calabria magistrates warned in June that the 'Ndrangheta's influence was spreading beyond Italy, with the crime family moving into France, London, and Ireland.