Rome (AFP) – Italian police said Thursday they had arrested 19 suspected members of a Nigerian mob, including the leaders of a clan which forged alliances with other mafias and violently punished anyone who rebelled.
In an operation dubbed “Burning Flame”, coordinated by police in Bologna and Turin, over 300 officers carried out arrests and searches in nine cities across northern Italy from Bergamo to Modena, Parma and Ravenna.
A two-year probe — aided significantly by a man on the inside who fed details to investigators — “has allowed us to destroy much of what, within the Nigerian community, is known as the ‘Maphite’ cult,” police said in a statement.
It said the acronym stood for Maximum Academic Performance Highly Intellectuals Train Executioner.
“Among those arrested were those who held a leading role within the criminal organisation.
“Those who decided on the new initiations, who ran the prostitution rings, who dominated by force the other criminal organisations, who ran the drug trade in the city squares,” it said.
Fifty other suspects were under investigation, it added.
Police said the Nigerian mob used “urban guerrilla warfare which continued for days at a time” to maintain territorial control.
The ‘cult’ was just one of a series of foreign organised crime groups which had adopted Italian mafia codes, police said.
While they have much in common, they are independently structured and “in strong rivalry with each other”, it added.
– ‘Green bible’ –
Maphite was founded back in the 1980s — along with other Nigerian gangs such as the Black Axe and the Vikings — before developing into a full-blown organised crime group in the 1990s, police said.
It adopted the moniker Green Circuit Association to camouflage its international expansion and is now widespread in many countries around the world.
The top mobsters are known in gang lingo as the Main Chief, Deputy Don, Checker (the treasurer) and Fire — who is in charge of giving orders, while an executive committee carries them out.
Members have to follow strict rules of conduct laid out in the so-called “Green bible”, kept safe by the leader.
“New members are initiated following precise rituals, and treason is met with corporal or lethal punishment,” police said.
The rituals included new members being first beaten then asked to swear allegiance while holding burning paper, using the words “if I reveal our secrets, this fire will burn me and all I own”, Italian media reported, citing investigators.
Four subsets within the Maphite were identified: the ‘Vatican Family’, in Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany, the ‘Latin Family’ in the northwest, the ‘Rome Family Empire’ in central Italy, and the ‘Light House of Sicily Family’ in the islands, they said.
Maphite maintains close ties to Nigeria, so that those who cross it fear retaliation not just in Italy but there too, police said.
Paolo Borgna, deputy prosecutor in Turin, said the foreign mafias “are born and develop by giving protection to their countrymen and developing a kind of parallel, ruthless and criminal justice”.
“It is a characteristic shared by all mafias: protection is offered, compensation is requested, protection is imposed and, finally, those who do not accept it are punished,” he told journalists at a press conference.
He said Maphite had a common fund which the newly-affiliated paid into when they joined.
“It’s not a refined mafia… but not one to be underestimated. It must be contained now,” he added.
Italy’s far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini hailed the “maxi-operation”, saying “we don’t need this type of immigration. Ports closed, jails open.”