Police say New York restaurant was front for mafia drugs ring

ROME (AFP) - Italian authorities said Thursday they had broken up a transatlantic drugs ring run by the Ndrangheta mafia organisation and run from a New York pizza restaurant.

In an operation carried out in collaboration with the FBI, a total of 17 people have been arrested including the alleged ringleader, Gregorio Gigliotti, a native of 'Ndrangheta's heartland of Calabria in southern Italy who had moved to the Queens district of New York where he ran a pizza restaurant called Cucino A modo Mio with his wife and son.

Police said the modest eatery was a front for Gigliotti's real activity: importing cocaine from Latin America for sale in the city and export to Europe.

Anti-mafia prosecutor Franco Roberti told a press conference in Rome that six pistols and a rifle had been found at Gigliotti's residence.

The arrests followed the recent seizures of two shipments of cocaine totalling 60 kilogrammes (132 pounds) of the drug.

"Today's operation is a harsh blow for international drug trafficking," Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said.

"The state has had an important success in dismantling a criminal organisation controlled by the 'Ndrangheta which had ramifications for the the United States."

Based in Calabria but increasingly active across the country, 'Ndrangheta has emerged as the most powerful of Italy's mafia groups thanks to its role as the principal importer and wholesaler of cocaine.

Recent arrests in Rome and northern Italy have indicated that it has been buying up legitimate businesses for over two decades now to give it a way of recycling the huge profits generated from the cocaine trade.

Thanks also to its influence over major container ports in southern Italy, the highly secretive group is also very active in the illicit import of counterfeit goods from Italy.