Operation ‘Buffalo’ Leads to Arrest of Italian Mozzarella King over Mafia Links

Italy's largest mozzarella maker has been arrested following claims his organization is linked to the Camorra mafia.

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Italian Police / AFP

Giuseppe Mandara (C), head of the biggest buffalo mozzarella manufacturing company in Italy, walks alongside policemen from the Anti-Mafia unit of the Italian police, after his arrest near Naples on July 17, 2012.

The president of  one of the oldest and most internationally known mozzarella makers in Italy has been arrrested on suspicions of links to organized crime. Giuseppe Mandara, head of the  Mandara Group, was taken into custody near Naples on Tuesday; the Carabinieri also seized assets with an estimated value of $123 million as part of their investigation, dubbed operation ‘Buffalo.’

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Mandara, the third-generation head of the family company, is proud of the size and prestige of his operation – in an interview with Italian news site Il Denaro, he described himself as the “Armani of Mozzarella” and explained that cheese was in his blood — which exports products all over Europe, Asia and North America. The group produces over 78,000 pieces of mozzarella a day from over 100 farms around Campania.

However things have turned sour for the cheese magnate: according to the AFP, the police claim that Mandara and his group have links to clans of the Camorra mafia, based around Naples. Police Chief Maurizio Vallone alleges that when the group faced economic troubles in the early 1980s, it accepted a bailout from the La Torre clan of hundreds of millions of euros.

Other allegations include misleading consumers after it was found that the company had been mixing cows milk in with the buffalo milk used to make mozzarella, as well as mislabeling batches of ordinary provolone cheese as a more expensive variety.

There are also concerns over the contamination of over two tones of mozzarella, now removed from the market, with ceramic residue from a broken machine.

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Pictures released by the police show Mandara being led away, casually smoking a cigar. Three other associates of his have also been arrested. Speaking with the AFP, Paolo Di Napoli of the Carabinieri said “we have seized the whole company.”