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Fausto Cattaneo: A lifetime of tracking the mafia

Fausto Cattaneo spent part of his life infiltrating mafia drug rings

(Keystone Archive)

Fausto Cattaneo has won international recognition for his work as a leading anti-mafia agent in Ticino. His activities have led to the prosecution of senior members of organised criminal gangs and massive seizures of drugs.

He joined the police and eventually became a secret agent after his wife persuaded him to abandon the stress and anti-social working hours involved in managing his family restaurant.

Since then, he has been infiltrating international crime cartels which, since the 1970s, have tried to turn Ticino into a centre for the trafficking of drugs and money laundering.

"Many people round the world still call me Signor Bertoni; Pierfranco Bertoni was one of the aliases I used when I infiltrated international drugs cartels.

Working as an undercover agent was by no means easy. On a number of missions, I risked my life and the lives of members of my family. Drug bosses don't think twice about killing someone, even a policeman.

I realised that drug trafficking needed to be fought at the highest level when I was serving in the Locarno police anti-drugs unit in the 1970s. Every day, I was dealing with young drug addicts enslaved to heroin.

As a policeman, I had to send these unfortunate people to prison, when what they really needed was medical and social/psychological help and treatment. And while they languished in prison, the big drug barons were prospering and quietly recycling the millions they were "earning" through our banks.

Partly because of its geographical position within easy reach of the large industrialised cities of northern Italy, Ticino has become a major financial and banking centre over the last 40 years.

Huge amounts of capital cross the border and not all of it's "clean". There is money resulting from tax evasion, money from organised crime, drugs trafficking, and cigarette smuggling. And the money often brings drugs traffickers and other criminals in its wake.

I couldn't just stand by and watch this happening. So I didn't hesitate when, in the 1980s, the cantonal and Swiss federal authorities asked me to join the new anti-drugs services set up to operate at international level, including the International Undercover Working Group.

As a result, I came to know the "élite" of the international drugs trade, the big bosses of the Turkish heroin mafia and the Colombian barons of the cocaine business.

As occasion demanded, I played the roles of financier, accountant and entrepreneur, but also driver and bodyguard. Because we lacked adequate organisation and resources, I often had to improvise in order to perfect my disguise.

In many cases, I had to seek the help of friends and acquaintances so I could drive around in expensive cars or receive drug traffickers in luxury homes or offices. Many drugs bosses begin as small fish themselves - juvenile delinquents from poor backgrounds - so it doesn't take much to impress them.

During those years, I definitely developed a sixth sense for danger, becoming ultra-sensitive to traps and ambushes. If I had chosen to play a double game, I could have become a millionaire. But I still take great satisfaction in having succeeded in removing hundreds of kilogrammes of heroin and tonnes of cocaine from the market, as well as confiscating millions of dollars and luxury goods of all kinds.

What I have to show for it are awards, medals and the grateful thanks of many foreign police forces: the American Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the FBI, Interpol and the Deutschen Bundeskriminalamt.

Unfortunately, I had to fight for several years to clear my name, after slanderous allegations were made against me and I was suspended from the service. The life of a secret agent - travelling the world, in close contact with mega-rich criminals - can easily arouse jealousies and strange fantasies.

The job and the problems of the last few years have cost me my health and my marriage. Even now that I'm retired, I still have to go around night and day with a gun, and take endless precautions to ensure the safety of my family.

Several mafia bosses have sworn to get me, and it's a fact that the mafia never forgets."

Fausto Cattaneo


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