The crisis in Europe hasn’t been terrible for everyone. Reuters reports that, according to one anti-crime group, the Mafia is now Italy’s largest “bank,” lending out some $179 billion each year, more than any other financial institution in the country:

Old style gangsters handing out cash in bars and pool halls had been replaced by apparently respectable bankers, lawyers or notaries, the report said. “This is extortion with a clean face,” it added. “Through their professions, they know the mechanisms of the legal credit market and they often know the financial position of their victims perfectly.”

Small businesses, who have struggled to get hold of credit during the economic slowdown, may have been increasingly tempted to turn to the mafia, said the report. Typical victims of extortionate lending were middle-aged shopkeepers and small businessmen who would struggle to find a new job and who were ready to try anything to avoid bankruptcy, it added.

The Reuters story says organized crime accounts for about 7 percent of Italy’s GDP. An earlier story from 2008 reported that the ’Ndrangheta, the country’s largest crime group, makes up a stunning 3 percent of the GDP all by itself.

On another euromess note, check out my Washington Post colleague Anthony Faiola’s dispatch today on the toll that austerity and a miserable economic performance have been taking in Greece.