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Italy's Mafia troubles creep north

The Mafia has long been a part of life in southern Italy, while the north remained mostly untainted. Organized crime has now solidified its presence in prosperous northern Italy.

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Instead, the “forced residence” approach allowed mafia members to work themselves into the rich northern and central regions. There they were joined by affiliates who remained at large and gradually created a new sphere of influence. 

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Take Antonio Dragone, a leader of an organized crime group known as the ‘Ndrangheta in the the southern region of Calabria. According to the parliamentary report, Mr. Dragone moved from a small Calabrian town to Reggio Emilio in the 1980s following a forced residence sentence. Once there, he became a key player in drug trafficking. His extortion activities, targeting the large community of immigrants who left unemployment-ridden Calabria for prosperous Reggio Emilia, also thrived.

Since the 1980s, the crime syndicates have strengthened their presence and diversified their activities. Today, the ‘Ndrangheta and the Camorra, the two main groups, operate all across the region.

'Legal and illegal are all mixed up'

Given Emilia Romagna’s affluence, it’s no surprise that money laundering has been the cornerstone of the Mafia’s expansion strategy.

“When it comes to the Mafia, legal and illegal are all mixed up,” said Tizian, the reporter, during a solidarity event held in his honor in Bologna by Emilia-Romagna’s journalists guild.

In sectors such as truck shipping and construction, Mafia-controlled companies are as common as in the south, said Bini of the Chamber of Commerce. 

They are corrupting the local economy by offering extremely cheap services, even underbidding competitors for public sector contracts, Bini says. According to him, their competitiveness derives from several factors: They pay their employees (who are often illegal immigrants) under the table, cheat on taxes, and can always count on huge capital reserves.

Sos Impresa, an anti-Mafia organization, said in a recent report that charging illegally high interest rates is another common strategy organized crime uses in the north. Mafiosos lend money at extremely high rates to companies in distress and otherwise unable to get loans, with the ultimate goal of taking control over them and further infiltrating the local business sector.

Public officials have lately been more outspoken and active against the infiltration of organized crime. A recently approved regional law provides grants to local governments and grassroots organizations for awareness-raising and monitoring projects in an attempt to involve citizens directly in the struggle against organized crime. 

Northern Italians have often claimed to be too honest to be targeted by organized crime, refusing to face reality, says Annalisa Duri, a local coordinator with the anti-Mafia organization LIBERA. But the Mafia thrives when people stick their heads in the sand, she says, agreeing to profitable business deals with individuals with questionable connections, for example.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility,” Duri said. “We need to realize not just that the Mafia exists but that it’s affected by our daily actions.”

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