MILAN (Reuters) - Police in the Italian regions of Lombardy and Sicily arrested 15 people and put four management offices of supermarket chain Lidl under state control on Monday as part of a swoop on a mafia gang.
Four of the German company's offices, which manage around 200 shops, were taken over as investigators probed links with the Laudani crime family, police said in a statement.
Lidl Italia said it was completely innocent regarding the accusations, was not under investigation itself and had offered to help authorities.
Sicily's "Cosa Nostra" mafia has weakened in recent years but Monday's arrests unveil the latest example of criminal groups spreading their tentacles from traditional southern fiefdoms to infiltrate businesses in the wealthier north.
In the case of Lidl, the mobsters allegedly used their influence to obtain contracts for work like warehouse logistics or kitting out new shops, the arrest warrant issued by a Milan court showed.
"This was a case of managers at Lidl Italia who were in charge of contracting work being permanently subjugated, so as to ensure projects were assigned favourably to the companies controlled by the associates," the warrant read.
Contracts assigned this way did "serious damage to the assets of the contracting company", it continued. The court has taken over management of the four offices for six months.
Among those arrested were a woman who works for city hall and is suspected of corruption in relation to a public contract, and a man who previously worked for the provincial government and is suspected of influence peddling.
The court also placed under state control the private company responsible for security at the Milan law courts, due to suspected links to the Laudani clan.
When areas of a business are placed under the control of a court, judges take over management for a defined period of time. In such cases, the court often appoints temporary managers.
No details were released on how many Lidl employees work in the four management offices or if their day-to-day activities will be affected during the period of state control.
(Reporting by Isla Binnie and Manuela D'Alessandro, editing by Pritha Sarkar)