One of the suspected leaders of the Sacra Corona Unita organised crime syndicate was extradited from Albania to Italy to face charges of drug trafficking and extortion, the police said yesterday.

Albino Prudentino was arrested in the southern town of Vlora in Albania in September last year as part of a joint operation between Albanian and Italian police that led to the arrest of seven other suspects from the group.

Albanian authorities have since seized his assets in the country including a tourist resort in the capital Tirana, a bar and sports and gambling businesses.

He was also accused of money laundering in Albania, prosecutors said.

The Sacra Corona Unita, Sacred United Crown, is based in the southern Italian region of Apulia and is allied with Eastern European gangs.

It has been involved mainly in prostitution, drug smuggling and arms trafficking.

Factbox on Sacra Corona Unita

• Sacra Corona Unita (SCU), or United Sacred Crown, is a Mafia-like criminal organisation from Apulia (in Italian Puglia) region in southern Italy, and is especially active in the areas of Brindisi, Lecce and Taranto.

• The SCU was originally founded in the late 1970s as the Nuova Grande Camorra Pugliese (current Società Foggiana) by Camorra boss Raffaele Cutolo, who wanted to expand his operations into Puglia. However, a few years later with the downfall of Cutolo, the organisation began operating alone under the leadership of Giuseppe Rogoli. Under his leadership the SCU mixed Pugliese interests and opportunities with ‘Ndrangheta and Camorra traditions.

• Originally preying on Puglia’s substantial wine and olive oil industries, the group moved into fraud, gun-running and drug trafficking and made alliances with international criminal organisations such as the Russian and Albanian mafias, Colombian drug cartels, Chinese Triads and Japanese Yakuza.

• The SCU is made up of three distinct groupings or levels. Members can “graduate” from one level to the next by going through riti battesimali (baptismal rites). The religious symbolism is probably left over from the SCU’s association with the Camorra.

• The lowest level, the Società Minore, is made up of lower-level criminals who do street-level activities. Members start out as picciotti and go through a 40-day trial to ensure they are suitable for criminal work and are not associated with the police. They are then inducted into the next phase of the level, the manovalanza, or worker. The candidate must also swear an oath of devotion to SCU.

• The second level, the Società Maggiore, is made up of two positions. The Lo Sgarro position is given only to members who have killed at least three people for SCU, and from now on members cannot leave, on pain of death. Members can now form their own crew of picciotti, known as a filiale.

• Upon indoctrination into the La Santa position the member is given a firearm (to symbolically use on oneself upon failing SCU), a cyanide pill, cotton (representing Monte Bianco, which is considered sacred), a lemon (treating the wounds of one’s comrades), a needle to puncture the index finger of the right hand, handkerchiefs (representing purity of spirit) and a spartenza (a gift of some sort, usually cigarettes).

• The final level is the Società Segreta, the core of the organisation where key decisions are made.

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