Exploiting the current situation of coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown due to it, criminal organisations in Italy are distributing food and ordering interest-free lending to the needy to try to extend their influence, Italian anti-mafia author Roberto Saviano has warned.
With Italy waiting for the European funding to boost its battered economy, mafia groups are poised to snatch up struggling businesses as the country is in crisis over the deadly coronavirus pandemic, he said.
“If Europe doesn’t intervene soon the multiplication of mafioso money that’s already in Germany, France, Spain, Holland, Belgium will be unrestrained,” Saviano told journalists on Thursday.
In recent weeks, videos of the Mafia gangs delivering essential goods to Italians have surfaced, The Guardian reported.
Taking cognisance and warning people about the situation, Luciana Lamorgese, Italian minister of the interior, said, “the mafia could take advantage of the rising poverty, swooping in to recruit people to its organisation. Or simply stepping in to distribute free food parcels of pasta, water, flour and milk.”
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Saviano, best known for his non-fiction book “Gomorrah” about southern Italy’s Camorra clan, is an expert on mafia groups and how they have successfully expanded beyond drugs and other illegal activity to worm their way into otherwise legitimate businesses and sectors across the world.
At the most basic level, criminal organisations are providing groceries for the poorest Italians, Saviano said.
Federico Varese, professor of criminology at the University of Oxford, said, “Mafias are not just criminal organisations, they are organisations that aspire to govern territories and markets.”
In order to lure people, to work for them, tactics like these are as old as time, he added.
Moreover, in Italy’s southern capital Naples, moneylenders, on orders of the Camorra, have cancelled interest on the debt, Saviano added.
“For what purpose? For favours,” he said, “That could be votes, or allowing someone to put their name on a contract as a front for the mafia.”
Saviano, who currently lives in New York, has been under police protection after receiving death threats following the release of “Gomorrah”.
The book, which details how the Neapolitan crime syndicate Camorra profits from multiple economic sectors from fashion to waste recycling, was later turned into a film and a TV series.
Saviano’s comments came the same day an opinion piece in Germany’s Die Welt newspaper warned that if Chancellor Angela Merkel did not “stand firm” and resist Italy’s appeals for so-called coronabonds, or shared eurozone debt, the mafia would benefit.
After weeks of wrangling, EU finance ministers agreed a 500-billion-euro rescue for European countries hit hard by the coronavirus, but put aside the demands from Italy and France for pooled borrowing.
“In Italy, the mafia is just waiting for a new shower of money from Brussels,” wrote Die Welt columnist Christoph Schiltz, warning against Europe handing out funds with “no limit” and “without any control”.
The comments published in Die Welt were immediately criticised by Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio who told Rai1 TV the opinion piece was “shameful and unacceptable”.
Asked about the article, Saviano said its premise was “reasonable,” but misinformed.
“Its the opposite,” Saviano said. “The mafia is only waiting for a crisis.” Failed companies, he said, will suddenly find themselves with new mafia-linked partners.
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“You become a partner, you enter the business,” he said. “It’s not like someone comes in with a gun, it’s their financial consultants who at a certain point say, With these partners well allocate, with these partners well do our banking.”
“This is having a raided economy,” Saviano said.
Late last month, Saviano warned in an interview with Italian daily La Repubblica that the breadth of economic sectors infiltrated by the various mafias included many of those central to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Where have they invested the last few decades? Multi-service companies (canteens, cleaning, disinfection), waste recycling, transportation, funeral homes, oil and food distribution.”
“That’s how they’ll make money,” he told the paper.
In recent days, the police in Naples – one of the poorest regions in the city – have intensified their presence in the poorest quarters of the city to ward-off any increase in the mafia activity.
(With inputs from agencies.)