In early March 2020, as Italy was being brought to its knees by Covid-19, protests broke out in many prisons.
Some degenerated into actual riots. According to ongoing investigations, Italy’s various mafias appear to have played a major role in fomenting the chaos.
Months later, in October, fierce protests broke out on the streets of Naples too.
Italy’s COVID-19 Problem
Clans of the Camorra, the powerful Naples mafia described in his books by the journalist Roberto Saviano.
They were among those who set fire to rubbish bins and threw stones at the police.
According to a recent report by the Italian anti-mafia investigation directorate (DIA), the “criminal organizations have all the interest in fueling episodes of urban disorder.”
“This is done by exploiting the situation of economic hardship.”
“This is to turn it into social protests, especially in the south.”
Like other EU countries, Italy has suffered a severe economic crisis since the outbreak of the Covid-19 epidemic.
The country’s GDP fell by 8.9 percent in 2020. And mafias are tightening their grip on the Italian society and economy even more.
“Mafias have always been profiting from disasters. They did it after the great earthquake in southern Italy’s Irpinia in 1962, and they have continued with the following earthquakes and disasters.”
This was explained by Antonio Nicaso, an internationally renowned expert and author of more than 30 books on mafias and organized crime.
“Mafias have exploited the epidemic to expand their dirty business,” he adds.
On their side, they have an immense capacity to invest. Drug trafficking and dealing did not stop during the lockdown.
“Unfortunately, the drug economy is not a parallel economy to the legitimate one, but an integrated one. Money-laundering is now becoming the oxygen of the legal economy,” points out Nicaso.
The Bank of Italy reported over 110,000 suspicious transactions in its anti-money laundering 2020 report.
The economic crisis has put more than 100,000 companies at risk of failure in Italy; mafias provide loans to struggling businesses, often receiving shares in exchange and buy those on the verge of bankruptcy.
Mobsters hand out pasta, milk, and meat in the low-income neighborhoods of Naples, Palermo, Catania, and Reggio Calabria; they lend money to jobless people, sometimes at low interest rates. Experts call it ‘mafia welfare.’
“Social consensus-based legitimacy is valuable to criminal groups,” says Federico Varese, a criminology professor at Oxford University.
“Emergencies like the current one push mafias to rule and try to pass themselves off as legitimate authorities.”
“They follow the old model of Al Capone, who in 1929 opened free canteens for the poor.
He didn’t ask for anything in return, but he knew that the people he helped owed him a favor.”
Through fraud, mafias have seized part of the Italian government’s aid to struggling companies and citizens. They have also entered the business of the fight to Covid-19.
In May 2020, a man suspected of being affiliated to the Camorra, intercepted by the judiciary, said on the phone that “you make money with the virus.”
He wanted to turn his cousin’s car wash business in Pesaro (central Italy) into a sanitation company.
In general, mafias are allegedly exploiting the chaos caused by the Covid-19 emergency to infiltrate even deeper into sectors where they are already present.
These are healthcare, mortuary services, and waste disposal (both medical and non-medical).
“All large companies need to deal with waste disposal. Doing so through mafias means a saving of 90 percent compared to official and legal waste-disposal systems.”
This is according to Stefania Pellegrini, professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Bologna.