By Nicole Winfield
ROME — Italian police have broken up a major mafia clan, arresting 74 people and seizing businesses, land, race horses and a London-based online betting company, officials said Tuesday.
Local politicians and businessmen in the southern Italian city of Bari were among those implicated as part of a three-year operation, called "Domino," for collaborating with the Parisi clan, police said.
Lt. Col. Salvatore Russo, the police official in charge of the operation, said 74 people were arrested, while an additional nine warrants were issued for suspects already jailed on separate charges.
The 48-year-old head of the clan, Savino Parisi, was arrested overnight along with his closest associates. They are accused of attempted murder, drug trafficking, loan-sharking, interfering with the bidding process for public contracts and money laundering.
The confiscated assets total around euro220 million ($330 million), officials said.
The operation "showed the true face of criminality" in the southern Puglia region, national anti-Mafia prosecutor Piero Grasso said.
"It's a criminality that is projected in investments, in businesses that suck part of the resources of this land and invests it abroad," Grasso said at a news conference.
Also on Tuesday, 11 other arrests were made in a separate, Sicily-based police operation.
Parisi, whose first wealth stemmed from an Italy-Serbian drug trafficking ring, had recently been freed after serving a 14-year prison sentence and immediately restarted his criminal organization, police said.
With his associates, he "acquired full control of the territory and accumulated enormous wealth through crimes of every genre: from stealing trucks to kidnapping and loan-sharking with interest rates up to 300 percent," police said.
The police statement said the former deputy mayor of the small city of Valenzano as well as the city assessor collaborated with Parisi, especially in his efforts to launder money through the construction of a euro30 million ($45 million) university building for 3,500 students.
In addition, the Parisi clan successfully got a friendly businessman elected to the city council "to intervene whenever necessary," police said.
The assets seized included the sporting goods empire "Sport&More" as well as the London-based Paradise Bet, described by police as one of the most important British online betting sites.
The arrests came as police cracked down on two other organized crime groups elsewhere in southern Italy.
In Palermo, Sicily, police issued arrest warrants for 11 people accused of helping longtime Cosa Nostra fugitive Salvatore Provenzano elude capture. Provenzano was ultimately arrested in 2006. One of his closest collaborators, identified by the Italian news agency ANSA as Simone Castello, 60, was arrested near Madrid, police said.
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Separately in Naples, police seized euro20 million ($30 million) in assets Tuesday, including a textile firm, land and apartments from the Somma-La Marca Camorra crime clan, a statement said.