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Italian Organized Crime

Italian Organized Crime Everyone seems dead set on ignoring the country's fundamental problem: organized crime. Organized crime is present throughout Italy, but is concentrated in four regions of the south (Sicily, Calabria, Campania, and Puglia). In November 2008, Confesercenti, the Italian confederation of trade, tourism, and service company operators released a report estimating that organized crime (Mafia, Camorra, 'Ndrangheta and Sacra Corona Unita) - is estimated to have a turnover of euros 130bn, with "commercial" activities accounting for euros 92bn, or 6 per cent of Italy's GDP. A February 2009 report by the Eurispes research institute estimated that organized crime accounts for nine percent of Italy's GDP. Numerous potential American investors have expressed concern about organized crime to the U.S. Consulate General in Naples and the Embassy in Rome.

Organized crime is involved in racketeering, loan sharking, drug smuggling, and prostitution. Confesercenti estimates loan sharking accounts for euros 15bn of Mafia income. Narcotics are by far the most profitable activity, traded across Europe and worth euros 59bn. The report underscored recent warnings by anti-Mafia prosecutors that criminal gangs were expanding their activities into trade, tourism, the gaming industry, restaurants, construction, rubbish disposal and the property and health sectors. The report estimated that about 150,000 shopkeepers pay the pizzo, or protection money, to Mafia gangs, amounting to euros 6bn a year. For example, a stall in a food market in Naples has to pay euros 5 - 10 a day, while a Palermo construction site may hand over euros 10,000 a month. According to the press, loan-sharking seems to be increasing as banks have become more reluctant to lend in the current difficult economic environment.

A February 2009 report by the Eurispes research institute estimated that organized crime accounts for nine percent of Italy's GDP. Numerous potential American investors have expressed concern about organized crime to the U.S. Consulate General in Naples. Researchers estimate Italy's underground economy may be equivalent to between 20 and 27 percent of GDP. A great deal of economic activity is kept "underground" to avoid taxation.

Often viewed as a political or social phenomenon, organized crime in Italy, as in any country, is first and foremost a business. A 2007 report by the Italian business association Conferescenti estimated that it is the biggest sector of the Italian economy, with a 90 billion euro ($143 b) turnover, accounting for seven percent of GDP, and 20,000 "employees." However, because illegal activity is by definition clandestine, it is impossible to quantify all of its effects on the economy. Organized crime distorts prices (mostly upwards, but sometimes downwards); undermines legitimate business; discourages entrepreneurship and the establishment of large businesses; and hinders economic growth, not only in the South but throughout Italy.

According to another study by the Eurispes Institute (an Italian think tank), the Cosa Nostra earns over eight billion euros ($12.7 b) a year from its activities; the Camorra about 12 billion euros ($19 b) a year; and the 'Ndrangheta 36 billion euros ($57.2 b) a year -- basically tax-free. A May 2008 report by the Eurispes think tank calculates that the 'Ndrangheta's business operations represent 2.9 percent of Italy's GDP, or 44 billion euros ($70.8 b) per year, the equivalent to the combined GDPs of booming EU members Slovenia and Estonia. Sixty-two percent of this amount comes from the drug trade.

Prices for most goods and services in Southern Italy are anywhere between two and five percent higher than what they would be in the absence of organized crime. The Cosa Nostra takes a two to three percent "tax" on most transactions in Sicily. In Reggio Calabria, 70 to 80 percent of businesses in his province pay protection money; estimates for Sicily are similar, while about 40 percent of businesses in Campania and Apulia reportedly make extortion payments.

SOS Impresa, an anti-racket association, estimates that the mafia-related cost to Italian merchants is 30 billion euros ($47.7 b) annually, including 12 billion from usury, 11 billion from rigged contracts and six billion from extortion. Protection "fees" range from 100 to 500 euros per month for small stores to 10,000 euros per month for construction sites. Those who refuse to pay are threatened, harassed and sometimes attacked or killed, or their businesses are burned. According to the Chinnici Foundation study, however, those who do pay do not feel any safer.

Since their appearance in the 1800s, the Italian criminal societies known as the Mafia have infiltrated the social and economic fabric of Italy and now impact the world. They are some of the most notorious and widespread of all criminal societies. There are several groups currently active in the US: the Sicilian Mafia; the Camorra or Neapolitan Mafia; the ’Ndrangheta or Calabrian Mafia; and the Sacra Corona Unita or United Sacred Crown.

The FBI estimates the four groups have approximately 25,000 members total, with 250,000 affiliates worldwide. There are more than 3,000 members and affiliates in the U.S., scattered mostly throughout the major cities in the Northeast, the Midwest, California, and the South. Their largest presence centers around New York, southern New Jersey, and Philadelphia. Their criminal activities are international with members and affiliates in Canada, South America, Australia, and parts of Europe. They are also known to collaborate with other international organized crime groups from all over the world, especially in drug trafficking.

The major threats to American society posed by these groups are drug trafficking and money laundering. They have been involved in heroin trafficking for decades. Two major investigations that targeted Italian organized crime drug trafficking in the 1980s are known as the “French Connection” and the “Pizza Connection.”

These groups don’t limit themselves to drug running, though. They’re also involved in illegal gambling, political corruption, extortion, kidnapping, fraud, counterfeiting, infiltration of legitimate businesses, murders, bombings, and weapons trafficking. Industry experts in Italy estimate that their worldwide criminal activity is worth more than $100 billion annually.

The three major organized crime groups in Italy -- Cosa Nostra (Sicily), the camorra (Campania), and the "ndrangheta" (Calabria) -- together with the relative newcomer, the United Holy Crown (Apulia), have undergone significant changes in recent years. This change has been caused by the need to keep pace with competition from Asian and Colombian crime groups in an international context of expanding criminal opportunities. Other influences are domestic pressures from law enforcement agencies, social marginalization, and the deterioration of a tolerant, sometimes collusive political class.

Recent investigations show that international agreements that involve the three main Italian crime syndicates now tend to be made in common, as are arrangements for less traditional activities such as money laundering. By the mid 1990's, there were few regions of the world untouched by the Italian Mafia presence or influence. Although narcotics smuggling is the principal transnational activity for Italian organized crime, tobacco smuggling and arms trafficking have had an important role in expanding international operations and may even overlap.

The Italian Parliament promulgated Law No. 132 on August 4, 2008, creating a parliamentary commission to investigate "the Mafia phenomenon" and other criminal associations, including those involving foreigners. The Law assigns to the commission the functions of:

  • verifying the implementation and relevance of specified legal provisions concerning the Mafia and other criminal associations, including those provisions addressing illegal patrimony and the proceeds of Mafia-related crimes;
  • evaluating the changing nature and characteristics of such organizations, their negative impact, their relationship to politics, and their attempts to infiltrate local entities;
  • verifying the implementation of legislation concerning cooperating witnesses and promoting legislative and administrative initiatives to increase the efficiency of such provisions;
  • submitting proposals for better coordination and relevance of state, local, and regional, initiatives; and
  • submitting proposals for improving international understanding of prevention measures, promoting international agreements, and providing judicial assistance and cooperation in building an anti-Mafia space at the European Union level.

The Law also includes measures to protect the secrecy of investigations and provides sanctions for violations of secrecy. The commission must report to Parliament at the end of its investigation, or as deemed necessary, and annually. The members of the commission include 25 Senators and 25 Deputies, selected respectively by the President of the Senate of the Republic and the President of the House of Representatives.

The Italian Catholic Church has often come under fire for not taking a stronger public stance against organized crime. One of the few priests who have, Father Luigi Merola, is now under police escort after working against the Camorra in the poor Naples neighborhood of Forcella. In February 2008, he inaugurated a foundation for at-risk youth in the confiscated villa of a former Camorra boss.

In March 2014 Pope Francis called on Italy's mafia groups to "stop doing evil" as he met relatives of their victims to demonstrate the Catholic Church's opposition to organised crime. "There is still time to avoid ending up in hell, which is where you are going if you continue down this path," he warned mafiosi, telling them to relinquish their "blood-stained money" which "cannot be taken into paradise".

Although law enforcement, business associations, citizens' groups, and the church, at least in some locations, are demonstrating promising engagement in fighting organized crime, the same cannot be said of Italy's politicians, particularly at the national level.

Organized crime influences Italian politics, according to numerous experts, either by ensuring the election of their associates, or by keeping corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and law enforcement officials on their payroll. This corruption is a major component of the vicious cycle of poverty and the breakdown of the state in southern Italy.

In addition to the corruption of elected officials, organized crime in Italy has successfully recruited law enforcement and judicial personnel through a combination of bribery and intimidation. Many judges, prosecutors, police and customs officials have been exposed for collaborating with the Mafia. This corruption allows the various clans to evade justice, as well as to ensure that authorities look the other way when illegal activities are being conducted.

The pervasiveness of corruption -- Italy ranked 41st on Transparency International's 2007 Corruption Perception Index -- has led to a breakdown of the state in large portions of Southern Italy. The central government has little control over large areas of Sicily, Calabria and Campania, where organized crime maintains a tight grip over even mundane aspects of daily life, such as renewing a driver's license.

Of all the social elements involved in combating organized crime -- including law enforcement, business and social groups -- the politicians, many of whom owe their very survival to organized crime, appear to be the least committed to finding a solution. Countless politicians argue that organized crime is so pervasive that there is no point even in trying to do anything about it. Everyone seems dead set on ignoring the country's fundamental problem: organized crime.

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Page last modified: 31-03-2014 19:16:29 ZULU