Up to 5,000 members of the Italian mafia are operating 9,000 miles away in Australia.
Until recently the mob had gone undetected while `pulling the strings’ of other criminal gangs, police said.
Australian Federal Police assistant commissioner Nigel Ryan said members of notorious Calabrian mafiosi the `Ndrangeheta had hidden themselves within the community for decades.
The mob work with other organised crime groups including biker and Asian or Middle Eastern gangs on drug importation, money laundering and violence.
Headed by senior figures with authority over their clans they keep a low profile and run businesses with legitimate fronts.
Over decades illegitimate wealth gained from organised crime has been cleaned via those businesses.
Ryan said: "It’s entirely possible that people will be living next door to members of the ‘Ndrangheta without knowing.
"They’ve been able to stay under the radar while living modest lives in modest homes.
"They funnelled the illegitimate wealth into their legitimate construction, agricultural and catering businesses.
"In many ways I would say that the ‘Ndrangheta are actually the ones pulling the strings of other organised crime groups, particularly the more violent groups, such as outlaw motorcycle gangs.’’
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The revelation comes four years after the setting up of a covert police investigation into organised crime syndicates trafficking illicit drugs and weapons called Operation Ironside.
At the heart was an encrypted communications device called ANoM which officers cracked to learn how syndicates operate and communicate.
Australian police are now targeting the Italian organised crime syndicates.
Ryan said: "The ‘Ndrangheta are not just an Australian problem – they are a global problem.
'I was Mafia princess in Blackpool and got locked up with Rose West after hitmen attack'
"They are responsible for 70 to 80% of the world’s cocaine and they are flooding Australia with illicit drugs.
"They are pulling the strings of Australian outlaw motorcycle gangs who are behind some of the most significant violence in our communities.’’
Of 51 Italian organised crime clans in Australia police say 14 are ‘Ndrangheta.
Detectives are working with Italian, US, Spanish and Brazilian authorities to dismantle their finances, communications and operations.
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