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Italian Mafia Moves North

Corleone in Sicily - A Mafia HQ?

There have been a growing number of reports in Italy’s press on Italian mafia operations expanding into Italy’s north.

Traditionally, Italy’s infamous organized crime syndicates did their dirty work predominantly in Italy’s south, or at least that was the stereotypical impression one got.

For those not living in Italy, I suspect that the whole of Italy was associated with the mafia – until the Godfather series of films came along and implanted the idea that Italy’s mafia had its roots firmly planted in Sicily.  Then a certain Roberto Saviano came on the scene and wrote a book called Gomorrah which ensured that the southern Italian city of naughty Naples was associated with the Italian mafia too.

Corleone in Sicily - A Italian Mafia HQ?
Corleone in Sicily – A Italian Mafia HQ?

The Presidents’ Mafia Spat

Recently there has been a spat between the presidents of the Italian regions of Puglia in the south and Lombardy in the north. The president of Italy’s Puglia region Nichi Vendola said that Italy’s north was riddled with mafia operations. This did not go down well with the president of Lombardy – Roberto Formigoni, who accused Vendola of being on drugs, and of being a pot calling the kettle black.

But Italy’s north is definitely on its guard. There are worries that ‘ndrangeta Italian mafia will, if it has not done so already, attempt to infiltrate 2015 Milan Expo building contracts. UPDATE: July 2016 – Press reports and arrests suggest that this did indeed happen.

Mafia in North Italy Case One

Then there was, of all people, the governor of the Bank of Italy, Mario Draghi, who claimed that the Italian mafia was stifling Italy’s growth when he took part in a recent debate entitled ‘Organised criminal groups in Milan and the North’: social and economic aspects‘ in Milan.

Perhaps you may find it surprising to learn that far from being praised, Draghi’s participation in the anti-mafia debate caused a certain amount of consternation.  All he was trying to do was to highlight what has been happening, probably because he suspects that certain politicians are either keeping their heads firmly buried in the sand, Ostrich style, or, possibly, are doing rather well out of mafia funded backhanders.

Mafia in North Italy Case Two

Next up, there was the case of a local council in Bordighera, Liguria – a north western coastal region of Italy – which had to be dissolved because it had been well and truly infiltrated by the mafia. This is something you hear about from time to time, but usually the council concerned is within one of Italy’s southern regions with a long history of Italian mafia crime problems.

More? Yes, there is more.

Mafia in North Italy Case Three

Ever heard of the ‘pizzo’? Well, the ‘pizzo’ is a sum of money paid by shop keepers and other businesses to mafia collectors. Paying this money ensures that nothing untoward will happen to the businesses, their owners, and members of their families. It’s protection money, plain and simple – but paying the pizzo money was something usually associated with Palermo in Sicily. Now though, businesses in Milan – Italy’s commercial heart – are being made to cough up, though, so far, not more traditional businesses – the mafia in Milan ask street sellers and clubs for payments.

To cut a long story short, the Italian mafia does have quite a presence in Italy’s north nowadays – even if many might think that the whole of Italy has already been a mafia stronghold for many years.

I believe that the mafia used to be active in Milan (an Italian friend of mine once pointed out two ex-mafia bosses to me while I was on a tram a good few years back), then there was a clampdown and mafia power was reduced. Today, it looks as if Italian mafia power in Milan is on the increase once again.

Italian Mafia Misconceptions

I’m still not convinced that those beyond Italy’s shores realize that there are three Italian mafia organisations which exist in Italy. They are:

  • The Sicilian cosa nostra upon which the Godfather films were based
  • The camorra which dominate Naples and the Campania region in which the city lies. Italian author and anti-mafia crusader Roberto Saviano shed a lot of light on the camorra in his book which became a film – Gomorrah.
  • The ‘ndrangeta – which rules the southern Italian region of Calabria – but which has been spreading its tentacles further north for quite a while.

In actual fact, there are more than three mafia groups in Italy, but the others do not appear to be anywhere near as powerful as the three ‘associations’ listed above.

For more information on Italian mafia organised crime groups, see this post: Is the Mafia Still Powerful in Italy?

Anti-Mafia War Not Over

While crackdowns are taking place in Italy with regard to the mafias, the ‘war’ is far from over. Indeed, some suspect that the battle may never be won, as the mafia have grown from being local mobsters to multinational and national operators.

Why the topsy turvy multinational operations before the Italian mafia expanded in Italy?  Well, the mafias have been multinational for quite some time – the FBI have known about the links between US crime families and Sicily for many years, and Roberto Saviano intimated in his book that Naples’ camorra mafia has interests in Scotland, and that’s not counting mafia relationships with drug cartels around the world and the import of illicit goods from countries such as China.

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Oddly enough, Italy’s mafias did not appear to operate throughout Italy; well, not in the sense of asking for protection money and taking control of politicians and local government.  Italy’s organised crime gangs had penetrated the north, mainly in terms of infiltrating construction projects, money laundering and illegal dumping.  But despite these national criminal activities, it was Sicily, Naples and Calabria which were (still are) in the grip of the mafias virtually from bottom to top.

Italy’s north seemed to believe it was ‘better’ than the south, and that, for reasons which are not all that clear, it enjoyed some kind of immunity. Well, it has not. Indeed, the recent reports mentioned above in this post indicate that the mafia, in particular the ‘ndrangeta from Calabria, has been expanding its criminal operations into Italy’s north rather effectively.

Why?

Why is this the case?  A very good question.  It could be the culmination of the mafias’ master-plan which probably involved quietly infiltrating all levels of Italy’s society until it virtually ran the country.

That there are politicians in Italy who are known to have mafia connections is nothing new, and a few have been convicted of being too close to organised crime in Italy. Other politicians are suspected of being too cosy with the mafia too. One such politician is Italy’s new Agriculture Minister who is under investigation for suspected links to Sicily’s mafia.

Even Italy’s current prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is suspected of having connections to the Italian mafia, and there are those in Italy who allege that Berlusconi’s businesses have made money laundering mafia cash. Nothing has ever been proved though, even if one of Berlusconi’s closest associates has been found guilty of mafia association, although the trial still wending its way through Italy’s tortuous court system.

One other reason why mafia power may be growing in Italy’s north is the current poor economic climate.

Jobs in Italy, especially for young people, are scarce, and as the old saying goes – the devil finds work for idle hands.  Salary levels are low in Italy too.

Not helping matters, and again tied to the global crisis, is the poor state of Italy’s public finances, which means resources for combating the mafia are apparently not available. Of course, mafia friendly politicians in Italy may be keen to keep Italy’s anti-mafia bodies deliberately under-resourced.

Another theory which may explain the expansion of Italy’s mafia’s into the nation’s north may be the policy of placing mafia criminals in prisons a long away from the areas they controlled. This was an attempt to end mafia power in certain areas. This policy, however, appears to have backfired as the mafia groups appear to have moved to be closer to their imprisoned associates and started their operations in areas near prisons. The state of Italy’s economic climate will have made it easier for the Italian mafia to gain footholds in areas far from their traditional territories. Reports of the mafia infestation of local councils in central and northern Italy have been growing too.

There does appear to be quite an overlap between the Italian mafia and politics in Italy – at a local, and, increasingly, at a national level. Italians will tell you that there have always been relationships between the mafias and politicians.

Mafia Evolution

On top of all this is the ‘evolution’ of the mafia.

Nowadays, Italian mafia members are likely to be qualified professionals – lawyers, architects, bankers and doctors etc., and these people, while unscrupulous, are intelligent enough to keep one step ahead of the law, and may well be able to cultivate the political contacts necessary to ensure that legislation designed to fight the mafia is kept to a minimum.

There do appear to be two distinct schools of thought regarding the mafia in Italy.

Meanwhile, Italy is unable to reach its full potential economically on account of mafia related difficulties, but not only.

Incidentally, Italy’s odd employment laws, generally intransigent unions, and banks which don’t like lending money, may all be contributing towards the continued existence of the mafia, in all its flavours, in Italy.  Those who know Italy will know what I mean.

I dare say that foreign investors might think twice about investing in Italian businesses on account of the power of Italy’s mafias, as well as the problems mentioned before.

Will this situation change? Knowing Italy, I would not hold my breath. A shame. Italy does have great potential, but seems incapable of realising it.

Corleone photograph by Michael Urso at de.wikipedia

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