Thu, Oct 11, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Italy probes mafia clan's link to nuclear trafficking

MOVING UP The 'Ndrangheta is accused of trading in everything from cocaine to hundreds of barrels of nuclear waste from the Italian energy research agency

THE GUARDIAN , ROME

Authorities in Italy are investigating a mafia clan accused of trafficking nuclear waste and trying to make plutonium.

The 'Ndrangheta mafia, which gained notoriety in August for its blood feud killings of six men in Germany, is alleged to have made illegal shipments of radioactive waste to Somalia, as well as seeking the "clandestine production" of other nuclear material.

Two of the Calabrian clan's members are being investigated, along with eight former employees of the state energy research agency ENEA.

The eight are suspected of paying the mobsters to take waste off their hands in the 1980s and 1990s. At the time they were based at the agency's center at Rotondella, a town in Basilicata Province in the toe of Italy, which today treats "special" and "hazardous" waste. At other centers, ENEA studies nuclear fusion and fission technologies.

The 'Ndrangheta has been accused by investigators of building on its origins as a kidnapping gang to become Europe's top cocaine importer, thanks to ties to Colombian cartels. But the nuclear accusation, if true, would take it into another league.

An ENEA official who declined to be named has denied the accusation, saying: "ENEA has always worked within the rules and under strict national and international supervision."

A magistrate in Potenza, Francesco Basentini, began the investigation following others by magistrates and the leaking to the press of the police confession of an 'Ndrangheta turncoat, detailing his role in the alleged waste-dumping.

An ENEA manager is said to have paid the clan to get rid of 600 drums of toxic and radioactive waste from Italy, Switzerland, France, Germany, and the US, the turncoat claimed.

Somalia was the destination lined up by the traffickers.

But with only room for 500 drums on a ship waiting at the northern port of Livorno, 100 drums were secretly buried somewhere in Basilicata. Clan members avoided burying the waste in Calabria, said the turncoat, because of their "love for their home region," and because they already had too many kidnap victims hidden in grottoes there.

Investigators have yet to locate the buried radioactive drums -- although, in a parallel investigation, police are searching for drums of non-radioactive toxic waste they believe were dumped by the 'Ndrangheta near the Unesco town of Matera in Basilicata, famous for its ancient houses dug into the rock, the Ansa news agency reported on Monday.

Shipments to Somalia, where the waste was buried after buying off local politicians, continued into the 1990s, while the mob also became adept at blowing up shiploads of waste, including radioactive hospital waste, and sending them to the sea bed off the Calabrian coast, the turncoat told investigators.

Although he made no mention of attempted plutonium production, Il Giornale newspaper wrote that the mobsters may have planned to sell it to foreign governments.

"The `Ndrangheta has no morals and, if there is money in an activity, it will have no problem getting involved, even nuclear waste," said Nicola Gratteri, the anti-mafia magistrate investigating the shooting in Germany in August of six Italians

According to the turncoat, the plan to enter the radioactive waste business also started in San Luca, hatched by its then boss, Giuseppe Nirta.

Gratteri warned that Europe's police forces were "unequipped" to take on the mafia, whether the 'Ndrangheta, Naples' Camorra or Sicily's Cosa Nostra.

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