NINE alleged members of a criminal gang connected to the Italian mafia have been arrested in La Safor district (Valencia Province) for allegedly conning Valencian farmers out of 5,000 tonnes of citrus fruit.
The suspects are accused of a wide range of crimes including belonging to a criminal organisation, money laundering, document forgery, and fraud in several Spanish regions including the Valencian Community.
According to investigators, the group were connected to the Calabrese mafia and operated through 18 front companies, posing as middlemen for agricultural and food products.
One of their main tricks was reportedly to agree prices with orange and lemon producers in Valencia and Castellon, taking the product but paying with cheques that bounced due to lack of funds.
This practice is said to have netted the suspects more than €2 million through the ‘theft’ of 5,000 tonnes of fruit.
But police report that this was not their only ‘line of business’. The gang is also said to have taken out bank loans that they never returned, pretended to have fallen prey to thieves or losses while transporting fruit from Spain to Italy and pocketing the insurance money, and failing to pay their transport employees.
They also allegedly forged international shipping contracts for agricultural products, laundering their illicit gains through front companies that invested in jewels, property and shares in other businesses.
Five of the suspects were caught while visiting two banks in Xeraco and Tavernes de la Valldigna (La Safor), where they had just been granted two loans of more than €300,000 which they did not intend to pay back.
The remaining four alleged gang members were seized in a house in Daimus and a warehouse in Palma de Gandia.
Police also froze over 200 national and international bank accounts and seized nine high-range vehicles valued at over €240,000, jewels and luxury watches costing more than €100,000, and a fake gun, among other incriminating items.
This week’s swoop comes after the two suspected gang leaders were caught in Italy on August 13 thanks to a European arrest warrant issued by Alzira (Valencia) court, with the accused also facing charges of drug and arms trafficking.
The police operation has effectively solved 100 crimes reported throughout the Valencia region, Catalunya, Madrid, Almeria and Murcia.