Mafioso gets seven years for Slo­vakia-Italy Malta-North Africa gun smug­gling ring

Malta Independent - - FRONT PAGE - ■ David Lind­say

A well-known ex­po­nent of the Ceusi Mafia clan was sen­tenced to seven years in jail yes­ter­day by the Ital­ian courts for his role in a gun smug­gling ring through which in­ves­ti­ga­tors from Europol be­lieve hu­man smug­glers and ter­ror­ists in North Africa may have been sup­plied with weapons.

Carmelo Pi­a­cente was sen­tenced yes­ter­day to seven years in prison for his role in the op­er­a­tion, in which arms and am­mu­ni­tion were be­ing sent from Slo­vakia to Italy to Malta and then on to clients in North Africa. An ac­com­plice, Si­mona Puc­cia, was sen­tenced to three years un­der house ar­rest af­ter ac­cept­ing a plea bar­gain.

Yes­ter­day’s sen­tenc­ing was merely the first chap­ter in the case against Pi­a­cente, who was ar­rested af­ter months on the run, as in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the ring’s modus operandi and the fi­nal re­cip­i­ents of the arms con­sign­ments are on­go­ing.

In June, the Ital­ian po­lice had ar­rested the two mem­bers of the Mafia clan for weapons smug­gling.

The sus­pects had bought more than 160 de­com­mis­sioned firearms from Slo­vakia that could eas­ily be put back into ac­tion, ac­cord­ing to the EU’s po­lice agency Europol. Some had al­ready been re­ac­ti­vated and sent on to Malta.

The Ital­ian Cara­binieri, in close co­op­er­a­tion with Europol, ar­rested the two mem­bers of the Ceusi Mafia clan in Cata­nia, af­fil­i­ated to the Cosa Nos­tra, for weapons smug­gling.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion, co­or­di­nated by the lo­cal Anti-Mafia Direc­torate, was ini­ti­ated fol­low­ing the seizure in June of a par­cel in Mar­seille con­tain­ing firearms - sev­eral ma­chine guns, Sko­r­pion pis­tols, Uzis, si­lencers and am­mu­ni­tion.

That same month, on the ba­sis of in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by Europol, the French Po­lice Na­tionale in­ter­cepted a par­cel con­tain­ing three pis­tols and a

ma­chine gun. Both parcels were traced back to the same in­di­vid­u­als.

In­tel­li­gence anal­y­sis pro­vided by Europol’s Fo­cal Point Firearms helped re­veal that the sus­pects had pur­chased over 160 de­com­mis­sioned firearms from Slo­vakia for a to­tal value €45,000.

These de­ac­ti­vated weapons had their bar­rels, a step which can be eas­ily cor­rected by chang­ing the bar­rel, which was one of Carmelo Pi­a­cente many weapons spe­cial­ties.

The Ital­ian in­ves­ti­ga­tors re­vealed that a num­ber of these firearms had been re­ac­ti­vated and sent to Malta via courier ser­vices. They also iden­ti­fied links be­tween the sus­pects and Egyp­tian or­gan­ised crime net­works in­volved in mi­grant smug­gling ac­tiv­i­ties. Pi­a­cente had ap­par­ently been run­ning the ring along with an Egyp­tian he had met in prison in 2015.

Ital­ian au­thor­i­ties are not ex­clud­ing the pos­si­bil­ity that these weapons could have fallen in the hands of crim­i­nal or ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions op­er­at­ing in the re­gion.

Europol said in a state­ment at the time that the in­for­ma­tion gathered dur­ing the op­er­a­tion will be an­a­lysed by Europol in or­der to iden­tify po­ten­tial links with other crim­i­nal or ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity across Europe and be­yond.

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