Police swoop on 'Lord of the Winds' as Mafia goes green
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The latest record seizure of Mafia-linked assets by Italian police highlights the Italian underworld’s growing reliance on the renewable energy industry to launder money and cream extra profits.
Italian police on Tuesday seized Mafia-linked assets worth 1.5 billion euros belonging to Sicilian businessman Vito Nicastri, known as the “Lord of the Winds”.
Police said they had seized the assets of 43 companies operating primarily in the wind and solar power industries. These included hundreds of pockets of land, villas, factories, stocks and bank accounts, sports cars and a 14-metre luxury catamaran.
The operation against Nicastri, a 54-year-old businessman with suspected links to Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, highlighted the crime organisation’s growing shift towards renewable energies.
Investigators said wind farms such as Nicastri’s, which now dot the Sicilian countryside, had become favoured vehicles for laundering money made from drug trafficking and other rackets.
Largest mob haul ever
Interior Minister Roberto Maroni was quick to hail "the largest seizure ever made" against the Mafia.
The announcement followed a raft of high-profile arrests that have seemingly decimated the Sicilian mob, known as Cosa Nostra, over the past few years.
Dreaded bosses Toto “The Beast” Riina, Bernardo Provenzano and Salvatore “The Baron” Piccolo are all behind bars, and investigators say the net is now tightening around the “Playboy boss”, Denaro.
“Cosa Nostra is on the rocks,” said Francesco Viviano of Italian daily La Repubblica, in an interview with france24.com. “The once-powerful Sicilian Mafia is now but a pale shadow of its sister-Mafias, the Calabrese ‘Ndrangheta and the Neapolitan Camorra.”
But, for the Repubblica journalist, the latest blow against the Sicilian Mafia should not draw attention away from a phenomenon that has stretched way beyond the traditional heartland of Cosa Nostra.
The lure of EU credits
“The Mafia’s shift towards renewable energies has been going on for years and not only in Sicily,” Viviano said. “The financial stakes are huge.”
Throughout Italy, organised crime has invested heavily in renewable energies and in waste processing, laundering the profits made from drug trafficking and cashing in on generous subsidies provided by the state and the European Union.
“With small amounts of money, Mafia-linked entrepreneurs can buy plots of land, which they use to set up wind farms, solar panels and waste processing plants – all of which give them access to generous EU credits,” Viviano explained.
Since the year 2000, the EU has allocated more than six billion euros in subsidies to help develop Europe’s renewable energy sector.
In Italy, some wind farm owners have also made handsome profits by selling their electricity at a fixed price of 180 euros per MWh, the highest rate in the world and more than twice the price set in France and Germany.