Berlin seeks mafia-busting powers to tackle crime clans

Minister wants to seize 'status symbols' from gangs, many of which have roots in Arab world

A man is led away by police with a blanket over his head during a raid in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. Police cracked down on clan crime in Berlin and the surrounding area with a major raid on Thursday morning. (Christophe Gateau/dpa via AP)
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Berlin is seeking Italian-style anti-mafia powers to seize property from organised criminals as it plans a crackdown on the city's gangs, many of which have links to Lebanon.

The German capital's interior minister Iris Spranger says confiscating money, luxury cars and other “status symbols” is more effective than prison.

New police figures show the Berlin underworld, which has extensive roots in Lebanon, was responsible for almost 1,000 “clan crime” offences last year including money laundering and violence.

Although police seized more than €50,000 ($54,800) as well as drugs, cigarettes and weapons, Ms Spranger wants to delve deeper into unexplained wealth even where there is no concrete proof of criminality.

A similar law introduced in Italy in 1994 ordered people with mafia links to explain the source of their assets or face prison, but led to legal challenges about the presumption of innocence.

Ms Spranger acknowledged it would amount to an “inversion of the burden of proof, like in the fight against the mafia in Italy” but said such a measure “would strengthen our fight against the clan crime phenomenon”.

“A suspect who has no earnings and no known assets, but has paid millions in cash for properties, would for example have to show where the money comes from,” she said.

“By confiscating property we can strike a lasting blow that will be felt, because prison sentences often have no preventive or rehabilitative effect. Sometimes they are even badges of honour.”

Police last year searched 282 Berlin bars and restaurants, 160 shisha bars and 39 barber's or hairdresser's shops in their pursuit of organised crime.

The items seized in the German capital included 34 vehicles, 47 weapons or other dangerous objects and more than 11,000 untaxed cigarettes.

Berlin authorities have a particular focus on members of Arab families but this “should not and must not induce a general suspicion” against people of an Arab background, the report said.

An estimated 582 clan criminals in Berlin include 87 Lebanese nationals and 52 people with German-Lebanese dual citizenship, according to police figures.

There are smaller numbers of Turkish and Syrian nationals. The majority are German citizens. About 4 per cent of Berlin's population has an Arab background.

The report said today's crime families could often be traced back to people who fled the war in Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s.

Five members of one of Germany's most notorious gangs, the Remmo clan originating in Lebanon and Turkey, were recently convicted over a spectacular jewel heist from a museum in Dresden.

Berlin's police president Barbara Slowik called for efforts to free young people from “strict, patriarchal hierarchies” that demand family loyalty.

Interventions in crime families can stop people falling into criminal careers and the “children of today becoming the offenders of tomorrow”, she said.

Updated: August 12, 2023, 3:15 PM