Italian police appreciate that restrictions imposed by the coronavirus crisis also hinder mafia activity, but experts warn that it is only a fold before the relaunch.
Police in Italy says that even the most feared branches of the Mafia, primarily the Calabrian one, ‘Ndrangheta – number one in the world cocaine trafficking, are affected. General Giuseppe Governale, the head of the Anti-Mafia Investigation Directorate (DIA), says that the mobsters “accept that they will lose their clients (…) but they are waiting for better times”.
“An old Sicilian proverb applies in the present situation: ‘calati junco, as a pass to china’ (bend, reed, pass over),” says the Palermo-born official. The Mafia has been in the shadows and in other difficult times, such as 19th-century cholera epidemics or World War II, the general recalls. In Calabria, the cradle ‘Ndrangheta, the measures against the epidemic helped to arrest on March 13 the mobster Cesare Antonio Cordi, prosecuted last August.
Police in the village of Bruzzano Zeffirio has noticed a man violating the rules of isolation at home. The people of the law followed him when he delivered food and reached the hiding place of the offender. The Interior Ministry of Rome reported a sharp decrease in the number of crimes during the first three weeks of March; compared to the same period a year ago, 64% fewer violations of the law were reported. “Organized crime makes money mainly from drugs and prostitution, and in times of crisis people spend less on it,” explains criminology professor Federico Varese of Oxford University. But writer Roberto Saviano, a Mafia expert, suggested last week that organized criminal groups could exploit any urgency to make a profit. For example, if the extension of quarantine will lead to food, drug or fuel shortages, only the Mafia will lead the black market, he warned in an article for the newspaper La Repubblica. There have already been reports of criminals involved in the business of surgical masks, hand sanitizers or anti-virus equipment that are lacking in Italy. In Ostia, a suburb of Rome, a member of the Fasciani mafia family was caught selling masks on the black market.
However, there is no evidence of the role of the Mafia in such trafficking. Mafia chiefs are especially looking for investment opportunities after the crisis when the focus will be on economic recovery, the Government appreciates. Billions of euros will be pumped in to help the economy get out of the serious recession that is foreshadowing and it has already been proven that mobsters know how to take their share of public funds.
“It will be a unique opportunity for them, but we realize that and will take countermeasures against what will surely be a threat in the months and years to come,” the general said. He also mentioned the experience of the police in intercepting and eliminating the Mafia infiltration in the public works contracts for reconstruction after the earthquakes and the new highway bridge in Genoa. Catanzaro’s chief prosecutor, Nicola Gratteri, one of the leaders of the investigations against ‘Ndrangheta, says the recession could help the mobsters in other ways. Many firms in difficulty may resort to shingles, and usually, in such cases, loans can no longer be paid, and business is taken over by the Mafia.
“It is the most serious threat: if the government does not give real support to companies, now, not in a year or two, people will go bankrupt or go to work,” he warned. Gratteri also expressed his concern regarding the current delays in the judicial activity; hearings in anti-mafia trials were suspended because of the COVID-19 epidemic. Apart from ‘Ndrangheta, the main mafia organizations in Italy are Cosa Nostra in Sicily, Camorra in Campania – the region around Naples – and Sacra Corona Unita in the south-eastern province of Puglia. Offenders act harder because of unprecedented movement restrictions on a national scale. At the same time, the number of deaths and patients with coronavirus continues to increase, and the crisis will leave deep scars in Italian society.