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‘Capital Mafia’: Rome mobster probe spreads across Italy

Filippo Monteforte, AFP

A massive investigation into collusion between a mafia-like gang – led by a one-eyed former fascist – and corrupt politicians in Rome has widened to other parts of the country, underscoring the pervasiveness of Italy’s crime syndicates.

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Italian police arrested two suspected mobsters on Thursday as part of a sprawling investigation into a Roman criminal network that allegedly bribed senior city officials to obtain lucrative contracts.

The arrests for suspected mafia conspiracy are part of a probe showing links between businesses run by the gang and alleged members of the powerful Calabrian mafia, the ‘Ndrangheta.

Last week, prosecutors in Rome said they had arrested 37 people and placed scores more under investigation, including suspected mobsters, neo-fascist militants, a former right-wing mayor of Rome, and members of the current centre-left administration.

All are suspected of involvement in a system of corruption allegedly run by Massimo Carminati, a notorious far-right extremist who lost an eye in a shoot-out with police in the 1980s and is sometimes referred to as “the last King of Rome”.

The widening investigation, dubbed “Capital Mafia”, has revealed a web of dirty deals between political figures and Carminati’s middlemen and cast light on the clout of Rome’s underworld.

Politicians are suspected of helping the mob’s businesses win lucrative public contracts, including to operate and service refugee centres and Roma camps.

According to wiretapped conversations, Carminati’s right-hand man Salvatore Buzzi – who bears an uncanny resemblance to veteran Hollywood mobster Joe Pesci – has boasted of “making more money with migrants than with drugs”.

Indigenous mafia

“Rome had long been regarded as a place where southern mafias could invest their money, but the latest investigations point to the development of an indigenous mafia specific to the capital,” says Mauro Favale of Italian daily La Repubblica.

The expansion of the investigation to include the ‘Ndrangheta, one of Italy's traditional mafia organisations, helps magistrates demonstrate that the Rome gang is itself an organised crime syndicate and can be prosecuted as such, allowing stiffer sentencing.

Report: tracking Italy's 'Ndrangheta
Report: tracking Italy's 'Ndrangheta

It also underscores the growing reach of the southern mafia, which has invested its profits from the cocaine trade by penetrating more respectable industries across Italy.

According to a statement from the paramilitary Carabinieri police, the two criminal groups traded favours regarding business interests in Rome and Calabria.

Police said the Roman mob handed a contract for daily cleaning at an open-air market on the capital’s Esquiline Hill to the Calabrian syndicate, who in turn agreed to allow businesses tied to the Roman gang to manage immigration and refugee centres in their territory in southern Italy.

“It’s unlikely the migrant centres are more lucrative than drugs, but they certainly give access to credits handed out by the government,” Favale told FRANCE 24.

Hotels and migrant centres receive about €30 euros a day per adult migrant, and up to €50 for minors, in return for providing shelter and a range of services such as Italian lessons and legal assistance. But aid organizations warn that criminal groups are exploiting the system and providing substandard services.

Umbrian haven

The mounting evidence of links between Roman and Calabrian clans comes a day after the Carabinieri carried out a rare mafia-related swoop in central Umbria, arresting 61 suspected mobsters linked to the ‘Ndrangheta.

A lush region famed for its rolling countryside and Renaissance art, Umbria had long been regarded as a “happy island” immune from the mafia.

But investigators say the southern crime syndicate has infiltrated the local solar panel industry and other businesses in the renewable energy sector, a frequent target of mobsters eager to cash in on state subsidies and launder profits made from drug trafficking.

Officials praised local businesses for cooperating in the investigation, noting that elsewhere in Italy people preyed on by the mafia are reluctant to do so for fear of retaliation.

Police said the mob had used arson and threats to force its way into Umbrian businesses, in some cases leaving petrol and severed lambs’ heads outside shops and private homes. Others were reminded of the ‘Ndrangheta’s habit of “burying opponents in cement”.

Test for Renzi

By Thursday, the string of mafia-related arrests had extended to Sardinia, where the owners of a waste-processing plant were detained in connection with the Roman probe.

Reports of the latest mafia swoops have dominated Italian newspaper headlines for days, putting pressure on Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to come up with a suitable response.

Police swoop on 'Lord of the Winds'
Police swoop on 'Lord of the Winds'

Renzi, 39, has vowed to stiffen penalties for wrongdoers, speed up legal proceedings, and evict the bad apples from his ruling Democratic Party (PD).

Analysts have warned that he will need to act fast to stem the scandal, which has undermined his efforts to break the mould of Italian politics. But few Italians expect to see a breakthrough in the battle against organised crime.

“Capital Mafia” has prompted yet another bout of soul-searching in a country accustomed to tales of collusion between politicians and the mob, adding to the general sense of impotence.

“Officials like to trumpet the arrest of dozens of mafiosi, but the truth is that criminal networks continue to infiltrate Italy’s economy and political establishment,” said La Repubblica’s Favale. “Clearly something isn’t working in our strategy to combat the mafia.”

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