Italian Clans

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By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe UpFront

For having a monopoly and control, Italian clans have often become crime syndicates. They have started believing in the most extreme form of neoliberalism. With the result, they now have control over certain political, social and economic aspect of the Italian society. However, a newer debate suggests, that they have now come under a generational conflict.

The newer generation, of these clans, it is believed, doesn’t have the necessary diplomatic skill to corrupt the politicians – a looming social problem, that has been exploited by the mafia syndicates. As they have lost control over several unions, the money comes slow, or it doesn’t come at all. Ironically, the younger Italian generation wants this money too fast. At the same time, the clans, demand certain ease in their work, and don’t want people to interfere in their territory.

Due to these generational differences, these clans are slowly beginning to lose control over the transportation industry, and now, they are no longer able to regulate the prices, as they were before. But, the fact also remains that these Italian clans hold extraordinary power, not only in Italy, but internationally, too. In 2005, several clan members offered journalists cash, in exchange for publicising their stories.

According to Italy’s statistical agency, Istat, organised crime attributed to over 12.5 per cent of Italy’s GDP, or around 189 billion a year, until 2017. Generally speaking, the clans and the government are often believed to have been dependent upon each other. However, in 2014, the Italian Senate had passed a law, to act against mafia vote-buying, an initiative that has not been successful, until yet.

Saviano writes in Gomorrah (2006): “The system’s economic grip is not born out of direct criminal activity, but out of the ability to balance licit and illicit capital.”

When his debut book Gomorrah (2006), hit the stands, that reflected Italy’s growing underworld problem, it became an overnight bestselling book in Italy, selling over 600,000 copies in Italy alone. At 28, he not only rechristened and romanticised the image of Italian mafia clans all over the world, but it also made Saviano’s life miserable, as he was no longer able to live at one fixed location. He had received death threats, directly from the Camorra clan, and has lived with constant police escorts, ever since.

The book had exposed the operations of Naples based Camorra clan – where Saviano links Camorra, with the operations in the garment sector, based in Naples, and the clan’s control over the port of Naples - where around 1.6 million tones of Chinese merchandise are unloaded each year. Some regional analysts even believe that the mounting trade, at the port, makes improbable for them to make exact estimates of the trade, quantitatively.

In a New York Times Oped, Rachel Donadio wrote: “He tugged a loose thread in the fabric of Italian bourgeois respectability, and kept pulling until nothing was left.”
Today, these Italian clans are imitated around the world. There is no criminal group that does not want to do business in Naples. Even the Turkish mafia want to buy the coke in Naples, in exchange of weapons. Many mafia organisations model themselves on these Italians syndicates. They copy their movements, their investments – for this resonance, many Albanian, Nigerian and Russian cliques have worked under Italian syndicates, in places such as New York, for example.

Various Italian syndicates also associate themselves fundamentally to the cocaine trade. They mediate channels, and guarantee constant investment capital. Money used to buy coke is called ‘putante’ (bets or stakes). It is believed that the putante of the Italian clan is the fastest to arrive, mainly because they promise to distribute it widely, thus freeing the producers from the worry of merchandise problems.

While Neapolitan Carabinieri investigated Operation Tiro Grosso, along with the Italian border force, it forced them to retrospect the trafficking routes of the trade. Suddenly, they figured out that there was a new channel, from which the trafficking route benefitted from: it was the broker.

These brokers are believed to make business meetings all around the world, from Ecuador to Canada. The best brokers are those who create import-export companies. Cocaine is now hidden in between pineapple slices, and in crates of bananas. These practices suggest that the old ways of drug trafficking are over, and new secretive trading standards have emerged, within the Italian clans.

In Beauty & The Inferno (2006), Roberto Saviano wrote: “their form of trafficking is simple and businesslike. Brokers mediate with the narcos, then with the couriers, who transport it, and then with the big horses, the men who pass it onto the clans, and finally to the little horses, who hand the drug directly to the pusher. Everyone, along the chain, earns something. But, in this brokering system, no one knows each other, and the brokers just have basic knowledge of the clan. Even if they are caught, the clan knows nothing of them. The clan will eventually find a new broker, in such a case. Likewise, if the family is dismantled, the broker will find a new family, and eventually newer powerful families will emerge.”

What makes the putante business lucrative is that on an average, a clan receives four times more profit than the initial investment.

In Operation Tiro Grosso, it became evident that brokers had a network that spread from Spain (Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga), France (Paris, Marseille), Holland (Amsterdam, The Hague), Belgium (Brussels), and Germany (Munster). Their couriers handle contacts in Croatia, Athens, Sofia and Pleven in Bulgaria, Istanbul, Bogota and Cucuta in Colombia, Caracas in Venezuela, Santo Domingo and Miami in the United States.

Roberto Saviano further writes In Beauty and The Inferno (2006): “these couriers are mostly illegal migrants, who hide coke and hashish in modified trucks, in such a way, that the shipments can only be discovered, if the whole vehicle is taken apart. The Sarno clan, for example, used buses of future nannies as cover. Only when the car is delivered, the courier, working for the syndicate, calls the people to let them know that the shipment has arrived. In that way, investigators get a hard time tracing them. For extra caution, they also use a new phone card, for every trip. Sometimes, the couriers hide coke in electric wires. The mechanics and narco-traffickers often call this process as kamikaze. Chrysler cars are often the best choice for the traffickers. In the 1980s, the choice of the car was Fiat Panda, but then everyone wanted a Chrysler.”

In places around Caserta, other Italian clans such as Casalesi clan, named after the town of Casal di Principe, within the Camorra, operate. On the run for eleven years, its convicted boss, Michelle Zagaria, nicknamed “Capastorta”, was believed to have been one of the few people to have control over the Naples-Rome railway line, according to the mafia investigators.

Zagaria was likely poised to become involved in the Naples – Bari line, and new metropolitan underground lines. He was probably ready to convert the Grazzanise military airfield, to a civil airport. His success is often related to an underpriced fee, demanded from clients, and the speed in which he moved casual labour, and machines, on tasked projects.

The Casalesi clan, under Zagaria, offered ideal capital lending conditions, the power to reassure the banks, purchasing material such as cement, at best prices, and transformed swamps into luxurious apartments. Under his leadership, the clan was supposed to have supremacy, in dealing with red tape, and other bureaucratic problems. In the construction business, he had no rival, as a free man. 

Currently, the Casalesi clan also controls slots, and the online poker business. The clan is estimated to be worth $47 billion. One of its other convicted bosses, Antonio Iovine, nicknamed “O'ninno”, who was initiated with a bloodletting ritual and oath, to never betray the Casalesi clan, with paychecks around 100,000 a month, eventually turned state witness, after his capture in Naples, in 2010.

But, perhaps, these Italian clans have been most notorious for their waste mismanagement. Ecocampania, that collects rubbish, from every quarter of Campania, is believed to have had links with the Camorra clan, in the past. Also, a public-private consortium benefits from all the checks and controls, creates new monopolies, and it eventually benefits the Camorra. Italian politicians have gained votes from the consortiums, while the clans have earned billions of Euros annually, even buying new rubbish collection companies, at inflated sums and fake invoices.

According to Saviano: “everyone profits from the rubbish business in Italy. The mafia does business with every rubbish collection companies, around the world. They get quoted with an unbeatable low price, often by the local officials, and the rubbish eventually doesn’t go into the compost. And, they use this money in buying shares, football clubs, votes, liquid capital, and buildings, to name a few. With the result, health research inputs have shown that in and around Campania, there has been an increase in the cancer rates, including those related to pancreas, lungs and bile ducts.”

In 2004 medical review of Lancet Oncology, there were around 24 per cent incidences of liver tumours near waste dumps, with women being most affected.

During the rubbish crises, common Italians have often poured the streets, in cities, where trash is routinely dumped. In documentaries such as “Biutiful Cauntri” (2007), made by Esmeralda Calabria, it shows how toxic waste, from all over Italy, has been buried in the south, killing cattle and sheep, and contaminating apples, and fish.

In Saviano’s view, if legitimate Italian businesses didn’t sell their toxic waste to Camorra, then Italy would have never qualified as a European Union member state.

Other clans, such as the convicted Russo brothers, the Nolani bosses, who were passed down an empire, once belonging to Carmine Alfieri, never operated, from the Italian land, at a point in time. They rather operated in hiding from the ocean, as free men, sailing in the Mediterranean, and the other seas.


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