From Rome

Among all the regions of Italy, Tuscany (the region of Florence), is one of the most valued and sought after by Americans, English, Germans, and many others, who want to live there and buy houses, or at least choose to spend there every summer. Its natural and historical beauties inherited from the Etruscan peoples (9th to 1st century BC), from the ancient Romans and from the medieval and Renaissance periods, make it particularly attractive. Tuscany has also distinguished itself in recent decades for having little presence of the mafias. It was considered almost an “immune” region, mainly Cosa Nostra from Sicily, ‘Ndrangheta from Calabria and Camorra from Campania (the Naples region) – the three most important mafias in Italy – which instead spread widely in the northern regions of the country and in other nations of Europe and the Americas.

To the northern regions (Liguria, Piemonte, Lombardy, Emilia Romania), the mafias sent several of their members to create a “clan”, that is, a group made up of a number of families that recognized the authority of a boss. And then they used those organizations to recycle (ie launder) the illegal money they got from drug trafficking, among other things. But that did not happen in Tuscany.

Since 2020, there has been talk that the economic crisis generated by the pandemic would have favored the mafias in general. Among those who supported this was Roberto Saviano, a writer and journalist who is an expert on mafias and who has therefore lived under police protection for years, and also the Antimafia Prosecutor of Palermo (the capital of Sicily), Francesco Lo Voi, who explained it in a meeting with foreign journalists from Rome in April 2020.

According to research carried out during 2020 by the Department of Political and Social Sciences of the prestigious Scuola Normale Superiore de Pisa university (founded in 1810), in coordination with the University of Pisa (founded in the 14th century and where Galileo Galilei was a professor of Mathematics ), things have changed in Tuscany. And now there is talk of a “Tuscan variant” of the mafia, characterizing it almost as if it were the variant of a virus, but not the coronavirus but the “mafiavirus”.

Professor Salvatore Sberna, a political scientist and researcher at the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the Scuola Normale Superior de Pisa and who also collaborates with the University of Pisa, is one of the experts who has carried out this research. The group of investigators has been dealing with public corruption and mafias for years.

-Professor Sberna, what is the difference between Tuscany and the other regions of Italy regarding mafias?

-The element that differentiates Tuscany from other regions of north-central Italy such as Lombardia, Emilia Romania, Piemonte, is that in these regions there are signs of a historical presence of the mafias. In Tuscany, on the other hand, there are no signs of an organizational presence. There is no evidence so far of mafia groups residing in the territory. But instead now there are clear indications of criminal investments made by the mafias. Especially in a phase like this where there is a great economic crisis and a greater need for liquidity, for cash. Now it is convenient for the mafias to make investments in Tuscany because there are some economic activities, some sectors, that are particularly vulnerable, such as bars and restaurants and tourism in general. And making these investments offers the mafias many opportunities to recycle (or launder their dirty money).

– Is the infiltration of mafias in legal activities important?

– The infiltration capacity is great. But we must also see the other side of the coin, because there is also what could be called a “mafia demand”, that is, businessmen who seek easier ways to survive, illegally, accepting money from the mafias. In Tuscany the presence of the mafias is more invisible. The second element is that the companies that have been investigated for being infiltrated by the mafias show that they have their “legal headquarters” in the south of the country. Not in Tuscany. In contrast, in other regions, many of the mafia companies discovered had legal headquarters in those same regions. The presence of the mafias in Tuscany is more camouflaged but it is no less dangerous for that.

-Other sectors of interest to the mafias apart from those associated with tourism?

-They are also interested in the manufacturing and construction sectors. Sometimes they even manage to win public tenders through a legal company, because often those tenders are awarded to whoever proposes the lowest prices and the gangsters can do it. But in Tuscany it is not the bidding sector that is worrying, but rather the private sector. For tenders at the public level, documentation is required from the companies, which in turn must be certified by the police headquarters. On a private level, everything is more invisible. Another sector is the garbage sector. In 2021 there was Operation Keu where investigators discovered a mafia company that offered other companies to dispose of garbage illegally. The Night Clubs, which the mafiosi buy and use for drug trafficking and prostitution, have also aroused mafia interest.

-Which is the most present Italian mafia in Tuscany? Are there also foreign mafias?

-In 2021, ‘ndrangheta and camorra were the most present. In the last 10 years the presence of ‘ndrangheta has become more evident. Not because their presence has increased, but because the judicial authorities have brought up numerous cases. For example, an anti-mafia operation called Vello d’Oro discovered that Calabrians arrived in Tuscany with suitcases full of dirty money that they handed over to Tuscan economic operators. Tons of cocaine arriving at the Tuscan port of Livorno were also seized. Among the foreign mafias, which deal mainly with drugs (cocaine, marijuana, hashish, synthetic drugs), there are Albanians and Chinese. In the area of ​​the Tuscan city of Prato, for example, there is a large Chinese community where there are demands for illicit services, where there are many irregular immigrants, where drugs are distributed. The Chinese are also linked to the textile and fashion world and in this sector there are many requests for loans from the Chinese mafias, because it is difficult for them to obtain a loan from an Italian bank.

-Compared with other regions, Tuscany is worse or better regarding the mafias?

Tuscany is far from being like the regions of southern Italy that have their own mafias installed. Tuscany was considered an immune region until some time ago, because it was the land of cooperatives, of associations. But in recent times there has been a “mafia lawsuit” also in Tuscany. The problem does not have the same dimension as in other regions, but it exists. Less worrying than Lombardia, Piemonte, Lazio. but equally alarming.

-Has the power of the mafias increased throughout this period of the pandemic?

-The effects of the pandemic in this sense will be measured in the coming years. What is certain is that there is a high risk of mafia infiltration in the legal economy. In a crisis phase, whoever has capital in hand to invest immediately is favored. And this represents a further opportunity for the mafias. The risk in this sense in 2021 was even higher than during the financial crisis of 2008.

Are there fears of infiltrations in public health, in the sale of medicines or masks?

-The health problem is more than anything a problem of corruption. It is true that the mafias may have infiltrated. But we must bear in mind something that often happens in Italy: the mafioso is criminalized but not the corrupt. The fight against public corruption encounters many more obstacles than the fight against the mafia.

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