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German homes, offices searched in mafia wind farm probe

Hundreds of police officers searched homes and offices across Germany on Tuesday as part of an international investigation into a suspected money-laundering scheme by the Calabrian mafia involving a wind farm in Italy, a senior prosecutor said.

The investigation centres on a wind farm near the “toe” of Italy’s boot that the Calabrian mob, known as the ’Ndrangheta, is suspected to have bought using the proceeds from extortion, drug trafficking and other criminal activities.

Alexander Retemeyer, senior prosecutor in northern Germany’s Osnabrueck, told Reuters that about 20 homes and offices of suspects in the case were searched by around 200 officers in Germany. There were also raids in Austria, he said, without providing details.

The suspects, whom Retemeyer did not name, are believed to have helped the ‘Ndrangheta launder money via a network of companies in Germany, Italy, San Marino and Switzerland.

Italy’s main crime groups – Cosa Nostra, the ’Ndrangheta and the Camorra from the Naples area – invest in the real economy from an estimated annual turnover of 116 billion euros from illegal activities, according to the United Nations.

The offices of German state-controlled lender HSH Nordbank , which had financed the wind park, were also searched, Retemeyer said. German wind turbine supplier Enercon said it had been visited but was not a target of the investigation.

HSH Nordbank provided 225 million euros ($304.3 million) in financing for the 96 megawatt (MW) wind farm near Isola di Capo Rizzuto in Calabria, but the lender itself and its employees are not under investigation, Retemeyer said.

Italian police first investigated the Calabrian wind farm in 2008, and the Catanzaro court seized it in 2012 on suspicion that the Arena clan owned it through a complex series of front men and companies.

At the time of its seizure in 2012, the 48-turbine wind park was considered one of the largest in Europe, finance police said, and it was indirectly owned by the brother of a former clan boss who was killed in 2004 when assassins shot his car with a bazooka.

The ’Ndrangheta is made up of more than 100 clans with a global reach. Its economic clout now surpasses that of its better known Sicilian counterpart, Cosa Nostra, thanks to a strategy focused on smuggling cocaine, Italian anti-mafia magistrates say.

Prosecutor Retemeyer said his office was investigating several companies in the northern German Emsland region that are suspected of having been involved in putting mafia funds into circulation.

Retemeyer said the Osnabrueck prosecution was cooperating closely with Italian authorities in the matter, which also involves German state and federal police.

HSH, which is 85 percent owned by the German states of Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein, and Enercon said they were also cooperating with authorities.

($1 = 0.7394 euros) (Reporting by Jan Schwartz in Hamburg and Ilario Filippone in Reggio Calabria; Writing by Maria Sheahan and Steve Scherer; Editing by Erica Billingham and Jane Baird)