Clans of the Sicilian mafia working with public officials defrauded the European Union of more than €10 million in agricultural aid, Italian authorities said on Wednesday.
Officers from Italy’s paramilitary Carabinieri and financial police fanned out across Sicily at dawn as part of the case.
A total of 94 people were arrested in early morning raids, the public prosecutor in Messina said in a statement on Wednesday.
Those arrested included the heads of two mafia families, a notary, entrepreneurs and public administrators, reportedly charged with helping farmers access the funds.
Forty-eight of those arrested were sent to jail while the others were placed under house arrest, police said.
National anti-mafia prosecutor, Federico Cafiero de Raho, said the alleged fraud involved thousands of hectares of farmland in eastern Sicily that fraudulently qualified for subsidies starting in 2013.
The clan falsely claimed they owned plots of land that in reality were owned by the region and local councils, thereby tapping EU funding.
In many cases, the mobsters used violent threats to grab ownership of lands eligible for the EU aid, Cafiero de Raho said.
“Mobsters used extortion to force sales of the lands,” he added.
Some of the land in the alleged fraud scheme is in the Nebrodi mountain range.
The funds moved through a complex trail of bank accounts to make the money harder to trace, including banks in Lithuania, Malta, Bulgaria and other countries, police said.
Italian Agriculture Minister Teresa Bellanova said the police operation showed the changing face of Sicilian mobsters, traditionally associated with drug trafficking and protection rackets but now looking to profit from EU scams.
“The gravity of what has emerged is enormous,” she said in a statement.
“It is also clear how damaging it is to take significant European resources away from good agriculture and quality businesses, which make up the majority [of firms] in eastern Sicily, and direct them toward mafia gangs.”