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