Europe Mafias on the move
In Italy Mafia-organised crime is no longer only a southern phenomenon
TERRACINA is a sprawling town south of Rome, popular as a destination for beachside weekends. Rivarolo Canavese nestles in the shadow of the Alps north of Turin. It has Roman ruins, a handsome 14th-century castle and fewer than 12,000 inhabitants. Neither of these very different places is in the traditional, southern heartland of Italy’s mafias. Yet both have recently been tainted—and dramatically so—by organised crime.
In August Gaetano Marino, suspected to be a leading member of the Neapolitan Camorra, died when he was shot after being lured off a beach in Terracina on which families were relaxing in the sun. And earlier this year the inhabitants of Rivarolo Canavese learned that their town council had been put under direct central government control, following an investigation that found evidence of infiltration by the ‘Ndrangheta, the mafia of Calabria.
The fact that the ‘Ndrangheta, a crime syndicate born in the toe of the Italian boot, should be found in cahoots with local politicians in a town 60km (38 miles) from the French border is striking evidence of something that is gradually becoming clear: the mafia is no longer a southern phenomenon in Italy, but a national one.
Of the 22 local authorities disbanded last year because of alleged infiltration by organised crime, four were outside the south. What is happening along the coast near Rome is unclear. Some investigators fear a turf war may have started between local hoodlums and Camorra mobsters intent on expanding their influence.
Other crime syndicates have already tried to establish a presence in the capital. In 2007 Cosa Nostra was found to be running a money-laundering operation from premises cheekily situated opposite the office of the prime minister. Two years later one of Rome’s most famous bars, the Cafe de Paris on the leafy Via Veneto, was closed after it was discovered that it had become a front for the ‘Ndrangheta. (It has since re-opened and uses a variety of products and produce from firms that have been confiscated from mobsters.)
The situation in Italy’s north is clearer. It had long been known that criminals from the south had put down roots in the richest parts of the country. A well-intentioned, if misguided, policy dating from the 1950s led to the removal of many suspected mobsters from their areas of operation and their “obligatory sojourn” elsewhere in Italy under curfew.
Thanks to three recent and wide-ranging investigations, it is now clear that the ‘Ndrangheta not only has acquired an unrivalled ascendancy in the north, but that its presence and influence is far greater than had been suspected (or acknowledged by northern politicians). Police and prosecutors claim to have identified no fewer than 24 locali (‘Ndrangheta clans) in Lombardy, the wealthy region around Milan, and Piedmont, of which Turin is the capital.
The first two investigations, which targeted Lombardy, led in November 2011 to the conviction of 110 defendants. The written judgment, published in June, is a profoundly unsettling document. It refers to more than 70 instances of suspected intimidation in and around the country’s financial capital involving “firearms, ammunition and, in some cases, explosives”. On September 18th, a 75-year old businessman was shot in the leg near Milan in what looked suspiciously like a mafia ambush.
The third investigation—Operation Minotaur, focused on Piedmont—led to the arrest of 172 people. It was this that prompted the disbanding of the council in Rivarolo Canavese. There, ‘Ndrangheta bosses are said to have worked with a local politician to get him elected to the European Parliament. One was overheard by investigators to boast proudly that he and his men could command 11,000 votes from towns in the Alpine foothills.