Authorities in Peru have arrested an Italian accused of being a major cocaine trafficker for the 'Ndrangheta, further evidence of the growing reach of the Italian mafia into cocaine source countries and transshipment points across Latin America.
Pasquale Bifulco, alias "Spaghetti," was arrested in Lima following two years of investigations into his activities in the country. He is wanted by not only by the Italian authorities, but also those of Brazil and Spain, and is allegedly one of the principal cocaine providers for the 'Ndrangheta's European market, reported La Republica.
In addition to reportedly leading operations that moved large amounts of cocaine from Peru and Brazil to Europe via cargo ships, authorities discovered through intercepted phone calls that Bifulco had bought a 35 percent stake in a gold and iron mine in Peru to launder drug money.
According to La Republica, Bifulco's sister Florinda and his Peruvian girlfriend -- both of whom are under investigation -- headed up the financial end of his operations.
Bifulco allegedly maintained operations in 12 countries, and had managed to evade capture on at least two recent occasions -- in January 2012, he was followed and nearly arrested in Rome, while an operation in March this year led to the detention of numerous of his collaborators, along with the seizure of over two tons of cocaine.
InSight Crime Analysis
The 'Ndrangheta, who authorities say are responsible for up to 80 percent of cocaine moved to Italy, have long had a presence in Colombia, where they collaborated with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) in the 1990s and the Medellin Cartel before that. They have also developed significant business relationships with Mexico's cartels.
Bifulco's arrest comes amid a number of signs that the 'Ndrangheta and their Sicilian counterparts, the Cosa Nostra, are expanding operations to other countries in the region. The brother of an alleged leader of the Cosca Alampi -- a smaller mafia group linked to the 'Ndrangheta -- was arrested in Ecuador last November, while a Cosa Nostra boss was apprehended in Venezuela in 2012. There have also been reports of an Italian mafia presence in the Dominican Republic since 2007, and an alleged key 'Ndrangheta operative was recently captured on the island, which is a major cocaine transshipment nation.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Latin and European organized crime
Meanwhile, the March operation that nearly caught Bifulco was the product of an investigation that had uncovered an 'Ndrangheta-led operation trafficking cocaine out of Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.
By expanding into Peru and Brazil, the group could be looking to reduce the role of middlemen; if they operate throughout the region, they can secure product closer to the source and personally oversee trafficking through the various transshipment points.