Italy’s anti-mafia police arrested 33 suspects and seized about US$42.8M in assets in an operation targeting the Calabrian mafia’s Piromalli clan, whose illegal activities allegedly included exporting fake extra virgin olive oil, reports Business Standard.

Charges filed against the suspects included mafia association, attempted murder, drug trafficking, money laundering and fraud, the report on 26 January said.

According to Olive Oil Times, the Calabrian mafia or Ndrangheta, is believed to be the wealthiest and most powerful criminal network in Italy, with the Piromalli believed to be a leading clan within that organisation.

“In addition to drug trafficking, authorities believe they’re major players in agromafia, including an elaborate olive oil scheme,” Olive Oil Times said.

Investigators allege that the Piromalli clan was importing olive pomace oil – extracted from already-pressed olive fruit pulp using chemical solvents – and labelling the cheaper product as extra virgin olive oil and exporting it to the USA.

The Piromalli were able to carry out the fraud through its grip on the right people in the right places including areas in and around the southern municipality of Gioia Tauro, including the region’s real estate, most of the food and agriculture businesses, and its strategically located port, the Business Standard said.

They had also allegedly penetrated the distribution chains in the northern city of Milan and had taken over businesses that exported olive oil to the USA, the report said.