A SUSPECTED Mafia godfather said to head one of the most ruthless crime gangs in Naples has been arrested in London, where he ran an Italian shoe shop.
Raffaele Caldarelli, 35, is wanted in Italy, where he has been sentenced in his absence to 20 years in prison for drug and weapons offences. He had been on the run for more than seven years.
He was arrested by armed officers after leaving the shoe shop in Hackney, East London. The capture follows months of undercover police work and a surveillance operation. Italian police had requested help from the Metropolitan Police.
The man, who is described as dangerous, resisted police when he was arrested. Three of the twelve officers involved suffered minor injuries.
The raid by the Serious Organised Crime Agency and Scotland Yard?s extradition unit, which had two international warrants issued through Interpol by the Italian authorities, took place on Tuesday. Mr Caldarelli appeared at City of Westminster Magistrates? Court on Wednesday, where extradition proceedings were instigated.
He was said to be the boss of the Caldarelli clan, based in the Mercato area of Naples, a run-down district blighted by regular mob shootings. The gang, which has about 6,000 members, specialises in extortion and protection rackets.
Italian detectives are investigating whether Mr Caldarelli was involved in laundering money. He disappeared in 1999 before he was given the 20-year jail sentence. Police raided Mr Caldarelli?s hideouts in Naples in July 2002 and seized six bazookas, two sub-machineguns, two pistols and a kilogram of cocaine.
Police believe that he had lived close to the shoe shop with his wife for at least three years and that he was still handling business in Naples.
Salvatore Coluccello, a mafia expert at Coventry University, said that the international group could have chosen London as its base for laundering money.
?The organisation turns over at least ?10 billion every year through their drug dealing, construction and waste contracts, smuggling contraband and protection rackets,? Professor Colucello said.
?The group is the most international of all the Italian clans, with affiliates across Europe and America, as well as links with cocaine cartels in South America. They also have personnel in Australia.
?But London may be their financial centre because it is quite easy to launder money in the city. It might be through opening businesses, through banks or even buying shares. It is possible Caldarelli was trying to launder money through the shop. I can?t think of any other reason that the organisation would have an interest in London. Most of their drug dealing goes on in Italy.?
Mr Caldarelli?s case was adjourned until September 13, when he will appear via videolink. He is being held at Wandsworth prison in southwest London.
Mr Caldarelli is the second suspected gang leader to be arrested in London in 18 months. Last year one of Italy?s most wanted men, Francesco Tonicello, was arrested at Vauxhall Underground station in South London, where he was working as a newspaper seller.
Visitors to Mr Caldarelli?s shop had aroused suspicion. A local office worker, who did not want to be named, said: ?You always see different flash motors pulling up outside. Then guys will get out in suits and shades. They never stick around for long. We always joke about it and say it?s like something out of The Sopranos. But it seems too obvious.
?There are often Porsches with tinted windows, which I thought was a nice touch. I am shocked that my neighbours might be mobsters. I guess you never know around here.?