Mass roundup of Mafia suspects rocks Italy

In an unprecedented attack on organized crime, Italian judicial authorities issued 856 arrest warrants last Friday for people suspected of having connections to the Naples Mafia - better known as the Camorra.

The arrests up and down the country caused a sensation, especially when several public figures were caught in the police dragnet.

One, Enzo Tortora, a TV personality and host of talk shows, was accused of being the Camorra connection for drug distribution in the show business world. Another, Mario Merola, is a hugely popular Neapolitan singer.

Others include lawyers (one of them a defender of Raffaele Cutolo, the boss of the Naples Camorra), politicians, a soccer team manager, and even a nun and a priest accused of being messengers in the organization.

A whole wing of Naples' Poggioreale jail was emptied to house the hundreds of new occupants.

The arrests came surprisingly near to Italy's 10th postwar general elections, which are only three days away on June 26. Some analysts were beginning to interpret the mass arrests as a strong-arm move by the Christian Democrats to convince undecided voters of their effective anticrime measures. But this seemed to backfire two days later. At least three Christian Democrat politicians were discovered to have had close connections with Camorra leaders in the past.

One such relationship was revealed by letters found after the suicide in jail of a Camorra leader, Gerardo Perrotta. In the letters Sen. Bernardo d'Arezzo thanked Perrotta for his help in the elections in 1972 and confirmed to him his ''trust and friendship.''

The Communist Party newspaper L'Unita also took up the controversy by referring to documents which brought to light the suspected dealings between the Christian Democratic Party and the Camorra in 1981 in the release of the Christian Democrat Naples politician Ciro Cirillo. He was being held hostage by the Red Brigades terrorist group. According to documents now being held by the courts, negotiations between the terrorists and the political party involved contact with Cutolo. In jail at the time, Cutolo allegedly obtained the release of Cirillo after paying more than $1 million ransom.

Under the leadership of Raffaele Cutolo, still serving a 10-year jail sentence in a top security prison, the newly organized Camorra - as the latest version of the organization is called - has increased its activity alarmingly over the last three years. It has infiltrated nearly every branch of public and private activity in the Naples area.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.