“The mafia is contaminating the economy by entering more legitimate businesses, making markets less transparent and corrupting public officials,” said Michele Polo, professor of economics at Bocconi University in Milan. “Along with tax evasion, combating corruption is the major obstacle ahead for Italy’s economy.”
Italian prosecutors are confronting a surge in the mafia’s illicit activities, with organized crime syndicates, particularly those based on the mainland, developing closer international links to Latin America’s drug cartels and seen as responsible for vast waste, corruption and inefficiencies in state projects across the southern half of the country. In October, the entire city council in Reggio Calabria, in the south, was suspended because of alleged links to the ’Ndrangheta crime family.
Moving in on the business
Here in Sicily, the depth of the mafia’s involvement has been a gradually emerging story, with a first wave of arrests in 2010. After acquiring new evidence through a network of informants and wiretaps, authorities staged a second round of arrests last month.
Those newly charged included Salvatore, the construction businessman who, officials say, was caught by a wiretap in 2007 talking with Funari about a partnership in the renewables sector. Jailed pending trial, Salvatore has denied the corruption charges against him. Arrested in 2010, Funari is appealing his conviction on mafia charges.
According to court documents, wiretap transcripts and interviews with officials familiar with the investigations, mafia involvement in the renewables sector followed a familiar path. Crime families and businessmen would target land suitable for wind or solar plants, sometimes pressuring landowners to sell or offer long-term leases. Corrupt local officials were enlisted to speed through application processes that could otherwise take three to six years. After receiving approval, they would approach foreign investors eager to tap the Italian government’s green subsidies program.
Some foreign investors involved in the projects apparently did not know the extent of the illegality they were stepping into. “But others just didn’t want to know,” said one official familiar with the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.