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An Unhealthy Italian Brand

Oddly enough, since I started writing about life in Italy, I’ve only really brushed over the subject of an Italian ‘brand’ which is as well known to those outside Italy as pizza.

This brand, is of course, the Mafia.

It is perhaps more correct to say ‘mafias’ because in Italy there are many, but the Sicilian groups are really the original mafia. For those interested, there is plenty of information on the different flavours of mafia which exist in Italy over on Wikipedia in the ‘Organised Crime in Italy‘ entry.

Now, I’ve been in Italy for a good few years, and, certainly, the term ‘mafia‘ is widely used in the Italian language. However, I also noticed that mafia was used, not only to refer to the organised crime groups originating in the south of Italy, but also to refer to something else.

Initially, I was not sure that I had understood correctly, and I thought that this use of the word ‘mafia’ was more a case of personal reference by individuals, but not by all Italians. I listened some more, and also talked about the subject with some friends.

It has become clear to me that the word ‘mafia‘ is used in Italy to refer to just about any and all instances of the collaboration of groups of people who intend to control a situation and exploit said situation for the generation money and favours illegally and illicitly.

I am told, for example, that the fruit and vegetable and meat wholesale markets in Milan are run by a form of mafia, and that if you want to sell goods through these outlets, you will have to budget for ‘contributions’ to certain people. I have no reason to suppose that the situation is any different in any other large town or city in Italy.

Whether these market mafias are connected to the major mafia organisations, I don’t really know, although it would be a little surprising to learn that they weren’t.

Similarly, and there is a case brewing here, local government is controlled by what Italians would refer to as a mafia. However, the Mafiosi in these instances are not men from the south, but it appears that they are often elected officials. Their tactics generally involve intimating that if you want to obtain some form of contract to supply goods or services to a local authority, you will need to pay a substantial sweetener.

Italy’s health service is particularly prone to this kind of practice from what I have gleaned. Indeed, in the recent case which I mentioned before, the now ex-governor of the Italian region of Abruzzo, Ottaviano Del Turco, who is languishing in prison at this very moment, received around 120 million Euros in bribes from poweful Italian health entrepreneur Vincenzo Angelini.

It was very simple, either Angelini paid up, or his upmarket Villa Pini d’Abruzzo clinic would not receive the requisite approvals from inspectors acting on behalf of the region of Abruzzo, forcing, in theory the closure of the clinic.

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It could be said that the Abruzzo region was run as a form of mafia. That other Italian regions, and regional institutions use similar ‘fund raising’ strategies, you can be fairly certain.

Ottaviano Del Turco, by the way, was a stalwart of the Italian centre-left, and an ex-union man. Up until this moment, the man had been beyond reproach. You may like to know that telephone tapping helped bring this little case to light, as, it appears, did Ottaviano Del Turco‘s greed. Angelini, who was initially happy to pay these extra dues, eventually got sick of having to cough up more and more, which is why he pointed the Italian police in the direction of Del Turco’s ingenious administrative practices.

As to where all the money has ended up, well, that is anyone’s guess, and the subject of a major paper chase.

Additionally, it could be said that many health institutions in Italy are run by a form of medical mafia who increase state funding by modifying clinical records ( So they can afford to pay off inspector wielding public officials?) .

Say you go in for a broken leg, well, your clinical record may be sexed up and state that not only was your leg broken, but also your arm, and a few fingers, just for good measure. This, I am told, is very common practice in Italy. So common that it is considered normal, acceptable even. Così fan tutte – everybody does it.

Some evidence of this can be seen from the recent ‘Santa Rita’ case, which I wrote about in my A Neat Idea for a Horror Movie? post, and another, similar fraud which has come to light in a hospital in the San Donato area of Milan.

Now you know that the word mafia, when used by Italians, refers to many other unhealthy instances of Italian organised criminal activity than that undertaken by the godfather led Sicilian groups.

Incidentally, in Italian law, the is the crime of associazione mafiosa – mafia like association. This indicates that ‘mafia’ is recognised as being a word which indicates organised criminal activity.

Finally, you may like to note that it was bribery and corruption within Italy’s health sector which sparked off the ‘mani pulite investigations and national scandals of the early 1990s. And these investigations established mafia links, literally right, left, and centre within Italy’s political establishment.

Another interesting fact is that it was goverments under the control of Berlusconi (right) and D’Alema ( left) who, accorinding to the Wikipedia entry

…”either ignored the pleas of the judiciary system for more funding to buy equipment, or passed laws that made the painstakingly slow Italian trials even slower and subject to earlier prescription (time barring – Blog from Italy).”

Berlusconi, D’Alema, and company still hold power in Italy, so it may be true to say that the ‘clean hands’ initiative, how can one put this, er, missed a few fingers and thumbs. And after this affair, serious attempts at discrediting one of the prime instigators of the ‘mani pulite’ investigations, was one Antonio Di Pietro, who, luckily, is still around too. Di Pietro knows what is going on in today’s Italy, and his vociferous complaints concerning Italian government manoeuvres appear to indicate that Italy has sunk to the kind of level which it hit prior to the events back in the early 1990s.

Could Italy be heading for yet another ‘mani pulite’ phase? Or are the majority of Italy’s politicians working overtime to ensure that their backs, and those of their backers, are well and truly covered this time round? Is the Italian government yet another mafia?

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