Catholic priest arrested in Italian mafia bust, accused of embezzling millions meant for migrants

The entrance of the Sant'Anna migrant centre in Isola di Capo Rizzuto, in the southern Italian region of Calabria.Revol Web/Flickr

A Catholic priest is among 68 people arrested in Italy in a bust on a large-scale mafia scam.

Italian authorities carried out a raid on Monday. The accused face charges of illegal arms possession, fraud worth millions of euros and local mafia association.

A local reception centre designated for needy asylum seekers was allegedly a cover for a mass scam. Millions of euros intended for the good of refugees at the Sant'Anna migrant centre was syphoned off to criminal organisations, according to Crux.

The arrested include Father Edoardo Scordio, who ran the migrant centre in Isola di Capo Rizzuto, in the southern Italian region of Calabria. Scorio also founded the Confraternity of Mercy, an initiative meant to serve migrants.

The vice president of the contrafraternity Leonardo Sacco was also arrested, and is alleged to have been the second in command of the scam.

Operation 'Jonny' involved a coalition of Italy's three major police forces targeting the operation run by the notorious Arena clan, part of the 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate.

'Today's operation confirms that where there is power or money the 'Ndrangheta pops up in order to exploit the needs even of the desperate,' said Nicola Gratteri, chief prosecutor of Calabria's capital Catanzaro.

Sant'Anna is believed to have had its public funds syphoned off since 2009. Prosecutors said that one third of $109 million allocated to the centre had gone instead to the Arena clan.

Gratteri said that if 500 meals were needed to feed those at the reception centre, the centre would only serve 300, keeping the saved money for themselves. After receiving vast funds through various means, Sacco and Scordio have been purchasing various expensive properties in the region. Sacco won around $24 million in public funding for the care of migrants.

'The priest, the governor, and the Arena (clan) fatten on the skin of these poor people and buy theatres, villas, and whatever,' Gratteri said.

Pope Francis was quizzed on the corruption while on his return flight from Fatima, Portugal.

'I know there is an issue and the investigations are moving ahead,' the Pope said. 'I hope that they continue and that the whole truth comes out.'

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