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Italian police arrest 28 in drug ring linked to Berlusconi's former aide

ROME, Jan. 29 (Xinhua) -- A total of 28 people have been arrested in Italy as part of a drug investigation involving a woman who shortly served as an aide to former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, local reports said on Thursday.

Police detained various drug smugglers across central and southern Italy, including a policeman on duty at Rome's Fiumicino International Airport and some cleaning staff at the same airport.

Assets worth around 4 million euros (4.5 million U.S. dollars) were also seized in relation to the operation.

According to ANSA news agency, the central figure of the investigation was a fugitive known to police, Pasquale Fiorente. The man was in charge of collecting the money from criminal organizations in Italy and buying the drugs in South American countries.

Since the investigation was started more than two years ago, police seized a total of 93 kg of cocaine and 930 kg of hashish, with an estimated street value of at least 35 million euros (39.6 million U.S. dollars).

Transportation to Italy took place on land, and especially sea and air. The drug was then taken to Campania region, in southern Italy, from where it was sorted according to final destinations for sale, according to la Repubblica national newspaper.

The network of collaborators in the criminal ring included Federica Gagliardi, nicknamed the "white lady" by the local press. She was seen dressed all in white as she traveled to the G8 summit in Toronto in June 2010 with then Italian prime minister Berlusconi and his delegation.

The young lady used to be a staff aide of the then president of Lazio region, of which the capital city is Rome, Renata Polverini, a member of Berlusconi's center-right party, and had reportedly asked to join the international event.

At the beginning of last year, Gagliardi was stopped at Rome's Fiumicino International Airport on charges of international drug trafficking. The then media reports said police seized 24 kg of cocaine from her carry-on luggage.

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