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Big cheese: Italy cops arrest mozzarella king over mafia links

AFP PHOTO / Italian Police

Giuseppe Mandara, center, 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 Tuesday.

Police in Italy on Tuesday arrested the head of the country’s biggest buffalo mozzarella cheese maker and seized assets worth 100 million euros ($123 million) on suspicion of links to organized crime.

Giuseppe Mandara, who once called himself the "Armani of Mozzarella" in an interview, is thought to have been linked to a Naples mafia clan, according to a report by European news agency Agence France-Presse.

A report in Italy’s Il Denaro newspaper [link in Italian] said investigators believe Mandara received a bailout from the mafia when he was in financial trouble in the 1980s.

The Mandara Group is a major global exporter of buffalo mozzarella and is sold by large chains in Europe, Japan and the United States, AFP reported.

The investigation also includes charges of misleading consumers after the company was found to have mixed in cow milk with more expensive buffalo milk and labeled batches of ordinary provolone cheese as the more prestigious kind.

"We have seized the whole company," Paolo Di Napoli, an officer from the environmental protection arm of the Carabinieri police, told AFP.

Buffalo mozzarella sells in Italy for around 12 euros ($15) per kilo and can cost more than twice as much abroad, AFP said.

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