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Germany: Ice cream sellers probed over Mafia money

May 8, 2024

Prosecutors in Germany have charged three alleged Mafia associates on suspicion of money laundering. The men are accused of using an ice cream parlor in a sleepy German town to wash cash for Italy's 'Ndrangheta.

Spaghetti ice cream, one of Germany's most beloved desserts
The day-to-day profits from the ice cream business were filtered to mafia members in ItalyImage: picture-alliance/dpa/I. Fassbender

Authorities in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia on Wednesday said they had charged three men with money laundering.

The three are alleged to have used an ice cream parlor in the small town of Siegen to legitimize criminal cash for the Italian Mafia.

What are the allegations?

The prosecutor's office in Düsseldorf accuses the men, between the ages of 25 and 39, of running the parlor under the instruction of a high-ranking member of the 'Ndrangheta group in Italy's southern Calabria region.

The mafia boss allegedly invested about €400,000 ($430,000) in the parlor.

"In return, the ice cream parlor is said to have been used to launder the illegal narcotics profits of the 'Ndrangheta and also as a logistics base in North Rhine-Westphalia," the prosecutors said. 

Some ice cream business's day-to-day income was allegedly transferred to other 'Ndrangheta members in Italy.

The German prosecutors say Italian authorities consider the main mafia contact to be "a leading figure in the international cocaine trade."

What sentences could the suspects face?

The three are also accused of having been members of a foreign criminal organization since December 2016.

Membership in a foreign criminal organization is punishable by a prison sentence of six months to five years in Germany. Gang and commercial money laundering is punishable by a prison sentence of six months to ten years.

Italy, Germany carry out large raids against 'Ndrangheta

The suspects were arrested in a raid in May last year as part of a wider operation and they have been in custody ever since.

How big was the investigation?

The overall investigation that led the authorities to the parlor was launched in July 2020 by Italian law enforcement authorities and included a cross-border collaboration.

The push against Italian Mafia has already seen over 100 people arrested in raids that also took place in Belgium, France, Italy Portugal and Spain.

In Germany, there were raids in the states of Bavaria, Thuringia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland, with more than 30 suspects arrested under outstanding warrants.

Investigations into crypto phones played a major role in the probe. Police were able to crack the crypto services EncroChat and SkyEcc, giving them a glimpse into the inner workings of the criminal network.

The'Ndrangheta is seen as one of the largest and most powerful crime syndicates in Europe, having eclipsed the Sicilian mafia by transporting tens of billions of euros worth of cocaine from South America to Europe over the past decades.

rc/dj (AFP, dpa)