A few years ago, the mafiosi made fun of the German investigators: "Think about how long this guy has been in Germany," said one in an intercepted conversation. And nothing happened. Only: "Lots of mi-mi-mi investigations."
Last week, the investigators struck, at four in the morning, in ten countries. More than 130 suspected members and supporters of the Calabrian mafia are now in custody or under house arrest – including the one who was the subject of the wiretapped conversation at the time. The public prosecutor's office accuses him of being the key figure in an international money laundering network of the 'ndrangheta.
This accusation is not new. The German authorities had been keeping an eye on the man with the nickname "Berlusconi", as well as other defendants, for more than 20 years, without ever being able to prove anything to them. This is not the only reason why "Operation Eureka" is an extraordinary procedure.
The investigators have shown that they can do more than "mi-mi-mi". That they can give organized crime an impact. But it is also extraordinary because the trial shows what usually does not go well in Germany and what needs to change fundamentally so that organized crime no longer makes fun of the German authorities.
In the Federal Labyrinth of Responsibilities
International cooperation was crucial to the success of the operation. Belgian, Italian and German investigators joined forces to form a "Joint Investigation Team", or JIT for short.
This allowed them to work together without lengthy requests for mutual legal assistance and to exchange all their findings as if they were sitting together in a presidium. On the way there, however, they first had to enter the labyrinth of federal responsibilities.
In order to establish a JIT, the states involved must sign treaties. If several public prosecutor's offices are involved in a case in Germany, the documents move over the desks of the public prosecutor's offices and ministries of justice in each federal state.
In the case of "Eureka", there were four federal states in the end – and astonished Italian investigators who did not understand why the Germans took so long to get started. This has to be done faster. International cooperation must be simpler. Too often, the fight against organised crime fails at the next frontier.
It would also be important for foreign investigators to have central contacts, at least in each federal state. The threads of "Eureka" converged at the "Central and Contact Point for the Prosecution of Organized Crimes". This is responsible for high-profile proceedings against organized crime throughout North Rhine-Westphalia. The structures and mechanisms of criminal networks are often difficult to understand, and there are also the ethnic-cultural backgrounds of the members, which usually play a role.
When it comes to money laundering – and at some point every criminal has to launder his illegal funds – complex financial investigations are necessary. So it only makes sense to pool expertise, gather experience and contacts centrally, and not hope that the public prosecutor's office, in whose territory a cocaine shipment or a money courier is discovered, also happens to be familiar with the Calabrian mafia or the intricacies of hawala banking. The other federal states should follow NRW's example.
The decisive factor, however, is the equipment. Almost always, when you ask OC investigators, be it the police or the public prosecutor's office, what is missing, the answer is: personnel. "Eureka" has been going on for almost four years. In the part of the proceedings conducted in North Rhine-Westphalia alone, well over a thousand court orders were obtained for covert measures, such as telephone surveillance or surveillance.
The fight against organised crime is complex and expensive. This is another reason why it is up to politicians not only to provide the appropriate resources for this, but also to finally change the framework conditions that make Germany so attractive to criminal networks from all over the world. For years, experts have been complaining that it is far too easy to launder and invest illegal money in this country. "Eureka" has shown this again.
For years, experts have been calling for the same measures: a cash cap, for example, more transparency in real estate and companies, a reform of the fragmented responsibilities. The Federal Government has already presented euphonious concepts for this. However, it must now finally act. Because it is not only true for the Calabrian mafia: it can also easily cope with hard hits.