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Italian Mafias killing less but infiltrating more businesses

AFP-JIJI

Italy’s Mafia syndicates are increasingly eschewing violence as they seek to infiltrate the business and political worlds to make money, the head of the country’s anti-mob police agency, the DIA, said Tuesday.

Nunzio Antonio Ferla said the number of homicides thought to be the work of organized crime groups had declined significantly in the last 10 to 15 years.

“But the various Mafia groups have shown themselves to be extraordinary adept at fitting in to every region and every social milieu,” Ferla told an end-of-year briefing for the media on where Italy stands in its fight against groups like Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, Naples’ Camorra and Calabria’s ‘ndrangheta.

As a result of this “powerful and ever-changing” enemy, the DIA’s work is now increasingly focused on “checking tender processes, combating money laundering and the acquisition of assets with funds raised through crime.”

Italian authorities confiscated assets ranging from works of art to luxury villas worth a total of €2.6 billion ($2.8 billion) in 2015 — around a fifth of which have been declared state property.

Matteo Piantedosi, deputy chief of the National Police, said a particular and successful effort had been made to prevent this year’s World Expo in Milan from being targeted by Mafia groups, and that the model used would be applied to similar large events in the future.

“The Mafia is killing less but corrupting more,” said Rosy Bindi, a lawmaker who chairs parliament’s anti-Mafia commission.

Mafia infiltration of apparently clean businesses has been underlined this year by arrests in northern Italy that have confirmed that the ‘ndrangheta, credited with controlling much of the world’s cocaine trade, has been putting down roots in the richer regions of the country for at least three decades.

Police believe it is using legitimate activities in the north to recycle the huge amounts of cash that its illicit drug business generates.

The last year has also seen Rome shaken by revelations that the city administration had, for years, been infiltrated by a Mafia-style network that siphoned off millions of euros destined for public services.

Leading members of the alleged Mafia Capitale network are currently on trial on charges of criminal association.

Although corruption in Italy is a much broader problem than simply the existence of Mafia groups, Piantedosi said they have a disproportionate impact on the country’s image, hurting badly needed inward investment.

In a 2014 list of 175 countries ranked according to perceived corruption by the NGO Transparency International, Italy came in 69th.

A World Bank study calculated the impact of concerns about the influence of the Mafia at €16 billion in lost investment between 2006 and 2012.

Ferla said arrests of mobsters are now most likely to occur as a result of them trying to spend their ill-gotten gains. “It is the moment when they seek to invest their dirty money that the Mafia are weakest,” he said.

Thanks to a Bank of Italy system known as SOS (Signalization of Suspect Operations), police get regular tip-offs about bank clients who suddenly become rich without any apparent explanation.

Following up such leads is an increasingly important part of anti-Mafia police work, but the Italian authorities also continue to track down known mobsters on the run and to apply punitive sentences and asset seizures that run contrary to Italy’s otherwise liberal penal system.