Warning: Italy’s Mafias eye EU’s billions in recovery funds

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European Union leaders during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, Friday, July 17, 2020. Leaders from 27 European Union nations meet face-to-face on Friday for the first time since February, despite the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic, to assess an overall budget and recovery package spread over seven years estimated at some 1.75 trillion to 1.85 trillion euros. (Francois Lenoir, Pool Photo via AP)

ROME (AP) — Italy’s anti-Mafia investigators issued a dramatic warning Friday that mobsters will scheme to get some of hundreds of billions of euros in European Union recovery aid after the pandemic.

As EU country leaders were huddling in Brussels about the amount and conditions for aid, the paramilitary general heading Italy’s anti-Mafia investigative agency DIA said mobsters are surely already mapping strategies to tap into some of that money, including through corruption or exploiting the country’s notoriously slow, inefficient bureaucracy.

Carabinieri Gen. Giuseppe Governale in an interview with RAI state TV likened the expected windfall of aid after COVID-19 devastated much of Europe’s economy to mammoth reconstruction following World War II.

“Hundreds of billions (of euros) will pour into Europe and Italy, and at this point, the Mafia won’t stand around and watch,” Governale said. ”The Mafia will dive into this sea” of money.

Italy’s several crime syndicates have often used intimidation or connivance to win public works contracts in the country.

As a measure of how mobsters influence local authorities who award such lucrative contracts, DIA’s nearly 900-page, semi-annual report to Parliament on the state of the country’s crime syndicates noted that more than 50 municipal governments in Italy — mostly in the south, mobsters’ traditional power bases, but also as far north as the Alps — are currently being run by local prefects, after investigators determined that crime bosses had conditioned elected town officials.

The report reviewed investigations against organized crime in the last six months of 2019. But with much of Europe struggling to regain its economic footing after months of coronavirus lockdown, the DIA decided to sound an alarm that EU funds will be seen as manna for Italy’s mobsters, who in the last few decades have already heavily infiltrated the country’s economy.

With Italy’s economy stagnant for years even before the pandemic, mobsters have used many of their billions of euros in cocaine and other drug trafficking revenues to buy up struggling hotels, pharmacies, restaurants, car dealerships and clothing shops. In particular the ‘ndrangheta, considered Italy’s most powerful crime syndicate and one of the world’s major criminal organizations, is well positioned to go on a buying spree, especially considering tourism and retail sectors have been devastated by the lockdown.

“The international economy will need liquidity, and in this, the (‘ndrangheta) clans will go compete with the markets in need of substantial financial infusions,” DIA’s report said.

It recommended that Italy’s system of preventing financial crimes by mobsters be “ductile, adaptable and dynamic.” Those adjectives could also apply to Italy’s crime syndicates, particularly the ‘ndrangheta, which have proven to usually be one step ahead of investigators, as Italian authorities have lamented.

Mobsters were quick to take advantage of the European economic crisis a decade ago, particularly in Italy, either through loan-sharking or by using figureheads to become partners in legitimate enterprises. When the businesses fail, the mobsters take them over, using ill-gained revenues to make ‘’clean” money for themselves.

The DIA said its warning went beyond Italy’s borders especially since, investigators say, the ‘’ndrangheta in particular as well as the country’s other mafias are already rooted in much of Europe and beyond and the pandemic-triggered recession has “taken on global dimensions.”

On the micro level, the investigators noted that Italy’s mobsters, including Cosa Nostra in Sicily, can turn to time-tested methods of helping out families at risk of poverty.

Especially in Italy’s south, crime syndicates have long tried to curry favor with citizens, banking on their loyalty to help elect local politicians seen as malleable by the mob.

The DIA said the ‘ndrangheta would likely seek to profit from the handling of hospital waste from COVID-19 cases. As for the Naples-based Camorra, that syndicate used its clansmen based in northeastern Italy to explore selling protective face masks from China, but abandoned that bid “only because it was determined to be little profitable,” DIA said.

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