Italian mafia networks have become less high profile in recent years as they spread their activities into new sectors, but they are just as dangerous, the interior minister, Luciana Lamorgese, has said.
Citing new data, Lamorgese said that organised crime groups “have made extensive transformations” while adopting “increasingly complex” models of criminal activity.
“Criminal organisations are ever more sophisticated as they manage to infiltrate important economic sectors in order to clean up illicitly accumulated money,” said Lamorgese at a hearing with the Italian parliament’s anti-mafia commission. “The mafia continues to weigh heavily on our institutions and economic system.”
Lamorgese, who was appointed interior minister in early September, said ’Ndrangheta, which emerged in the southern region of Calabria, continues to be Italy’s most powerful mafia organisation.
The crime group is made up of networks of hundreds of family gangs, which, over recent decades, have managed to stretch their tentacles to industries in Italy’s richer north and across the world, raking in billions from drug trafficking, extortion and money laundering.
A study by the Demoskopia research institute in 2013 claimed the ’Ndrangheta made more money than Deutsche Bank and McDonald’s put together, with a turnover of €53bn (£44bn).
The organisation is even more feared and secretive than Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, which fell into a state of flux in November 2017, when its boss of bosses, Salvatore “Totò” Riina, died in prison, where he had spent almost a quarter of a century.
Nicknamed “the Beast” because of his cruelty, Riina was an unrepentant criminal who not only assassinated his criminal rivals on an unprecedented scale in the 1980s and 90s, but also targeted the prosecutors, journalists and judges who stood in his way. Riina is no longer around but the organisation is still dangerous.
“Cosa Nostra has reorganised,” Lamorgese added. “It is still a pervasive, dynamic and dangerous organisation, even if reduced by the hard blows inflicted on it by the state, which brought to justice most of its prominent members.”
Meanwhile, the Camorra, which hails from the Campania region, is “less solid” but remains perilously widespread within its territory, managing to establish an “insidious collusion” with public administration.
Mafia groups have infiltrated almost every area of business, including healthcare, renewable energy, waste management and tourism, while maintaining a hand in their more traditional construction sector. Gangs have also penetrated the food chain, seizing control of farms, controlling distribution and counterfeiting food products, including cheese, wine and olive oil.
Their growth beyond Italy also remains strong, especially in Europe and South America. One of Italy’s top cocaine dealers, Nicola Assisi, from ’Ndrangheta, was arrested in Brazil earlier this year after five years on the run.
Lamorgese reiterated that the fight against the mafia was a government priority as she revealed that almost €3bn (£2.6bn) assets, including businesses, property and furniture, had been either seized or confiscated from the mafia since the beginning of the year. In 2018, mafia assets totalling €9bn were seized or confiscated, up from €5.4bn in 2017.
In 2018, 59 mafia fugitives were arrested, and 45 since January. Meanwhile, 2,090 people were either arrested or reported for mafia association last year, with 1,687 arrested or reported since January.
The mafia also meddles in elections, with 22 people arrested or reported in 2018, and 15 so far this year. Twenty-two local authorities have been dissolved for mafia infiltration since June 2018.
Lamorgese also noted the “alarming phenomenon” of mafia intimidation of local administrators, with 599 cases being reported in 2018 and 336 during the first six months of this year.