Italian Mafia preys on billions of EU recovery fund, and not only in Italy

The EUR 200 billion that the Italian Government hopes to receive from the EU Recovery Fund has also aroused the interest of organised crime. Researchers call for extreme vigilance to mafia infiltrations in enterprises.

Giovanni Bombardieri is Chief Justice Officer in Southern Calabria. He has been investigating fraud with European subsidies for years and has led many anti-Mafia action in his region. โ€œThe Ndrangheta is interested in European subsidies coming this way,โ€ he warns.

Calabria, a poorer region of southern Italy, has been severely affected by the coronapandemic. As in the rest of Italy, they can make good use of the billions from the European Recovery Fund. But Italian anti-mafia researchers see the extraordinary interest of the Ndrangheta, Italys most powerful mafia.

โ€œ They know where that money is going. โ€œNdrangheta has already been infiltrated. They dont want to miss something so โ€œapethylโ€. Entrepreneur Gaetano Saffioti has a concrete factory in the Calabrian town of Palmi and thinks he sees the way in which the Ndrangheta works.

โ€œ As a little boy, my father was threatened. I was at summer camp and I had to go home headlong. They wanted to kill me to punish my father.โ€ Cigar-smoking in his office, he describes how the Ndrangheta drew his life. Every month he had to pay Mafia VAT as an entrepreneur.

Infiltrate

โ€œ 2001 was the turning point for me,โ€ says Saffioti. โ€œThen I collected evidence and handed it over to justice.โ€ He was secretly filming with surveillance cameras how he got a visit from the mob.

On vague black and white images, Saffioti hands over thick piles of money to several men. In the end, 48 people from eight families were arrested.

Sapphioti fears that the Calabrian Mafia is already hunting for European money from the recovery fund. โ€œThe Ndrangheta already has a head start, which is in the departure position. They are looking for ordinary companies where they can infiltrate.โ€

Anti-Mafia researchers like Bombardieri received signals over the past year that the Calabrian Mafia is trying to infiltrate companies that are bankrupt or about to collapse. Companies active in green energy or digital development would be particularly interesting. There will probably be a lot of European money in the coming years.

Saffiotis concrete factory is now deserted. A lot of activity is undetectable. โ€œTheyre trying to let you die while you stay alive. You dont get any more tenders, youre not allowed to participate and thats how they create a desert around you.โ€

Meanwhile, there is a high wall around his factory and cameras are hanging everywhere. Outside, two security guards are patrolling. His opposition to the mob had to pay Saffioti dearly. โ€œYoure thinking: I made the wrong choice. Youre going to be a bad example for others. If you follow me, youll end up like this.โ€ With his cigar, he points out to the security car. โ€œBy staying here, I want to show that Im not an extra.โ€

European Public Prosecutor

Italian experts warn that other European countries, where the Italian Mafia already sits, must also be alert. Maurizio Vallone from the anti-Mafia Cherche knows that Italy has a lot of experience and powers. But he fears that not every European country is on the alert.

โ€œ Pay attention,โ€ he sounds alarming, โ€œorganized crime will not only try to obtain subsidies in Italy. The problems may also arise in other Member States receiving support from the European Coronaffonds. It is precisely there that the Italian Mafia can make it easier to obtain subsidies and tenders.โ€

Chief Justice Officer Bombardieri believes that the authorities in Italy, but also in Europe, should be on top of it. โ€œThe Italian authorities must pay close attention to how public money is spent, especially European money.โ€ It hopes that the new European Public Prosecutors Office (EPPO) launched this year will play a major role. He calls that a common interest. โ€œEuropean Member States really want European subsidies to be controlled from now on.โ€

Insufficient resources

Entrepreneur Saffioti believes that the EU should not be prevented by the Mafia from distributing billions from the recovery fund. โ€œIt is right that there is no trust. But important European authorities are going to inspect this and can also act. This could be our chance to organize better controls. Real controls to at least limit damage.โ€

Alex Brenninkmeijer, of the European Court of Auditors which controls the EU budget, fears that the EPPO will not be able to act very decisively. โ€œMember States did not want a strong European Public Prosecutors Office It has not been given sufficient resources and powers.โ€

With almost 200 billion euros in sight,Italy has already begun to implement its economic plans. โ€œA revolutionโ€ they call it in Torrita di Siena. The medieval village, high on the hills of Tuscany, suddenly has fiberglass.