Mafia Is Italy's Largest Business, Biggest Banker

Organized crime has become Italy's largest business, study finds.

ByABC News
January 10, 2012, 10:54 AM

ROME Jan. 10, 2012— -- While Italy's new prime minister sweats to fix Italy's dire economic situation and Italians are hit with increased taxes, there are some in Italy who are doing just fine in the country.

A report released today by an Italian employers association states that organized crime is the biggest business in Italy generating an annual turnover of 140 billion Euros (over $204 billion.)

The report by Confesercenti described the various different mafia clans with roots in different regions of the country as the "biggest bank" in the country with 65 billion euros ($83 billion) in liquidity. The association said the situation was a "national emergency" affecting businesses throughout Italy and is no longer to be considered as having a more powerful hold on the south of the country.

"During this economic crisis, mafia organizations are the only businessmen able to invest," said Marco Venturi, president of Conferscenti.

"We should never forget that the economic crisis is useful for organized crime which influences the legitimate economy and floods the illegal economy with both the production and sale of illegal goods," Venturi said.

He went on to say, "small and medium-size businesses are the main victims of rackets, loan sharking, and robberies by organized crime that generate 140 billion euros a year of which 100 billion are extracted from companies."

Study Finds Organized Crime Is Italy's Largest Business

In Italy, mafia is normally used to refer to the Sicilian clans, also known as Cosa Nostra. But there are four powerful branches of organized crime in Italy which have regional roots. Beside the Cosa Nostra, there is the Camorra in the Neapolitan region, the Ndragheta in Calabria, and the Sacra Corona Unita in Pugliese. They all operate and control illegal activities and funds worldwide, and do not normally work together.

Police in Italy have said there has been a marked increase in loan sharking due to the present economic climate. "According to our estimates, loan sharking has caused the closure of 1,800 businesses and destroyed thousands of jobs. Merchants are the most exposed to the phenomenon and around 200,000 are victims of usury."

Confesercenti, which represents around 270,000 Italian businesses, estimates firms are subjected to 1,300 crimes a day or 50 every hour, nearly one every minute.

Over 20 years ago now, Libero Grassi, an Italian clothing manufacturer from Palermo, Sicily with 100 employees and a business volume of US$45 million in 1990, was the first businessman in Palermo Sicily to denounce Cosa Nostra, Sicily's brand of organized crime.

Without the support from any business associations, he decided to take a lone stand against extortion demands and refused to pay the "pizzo" payments to the local clan. Considered a form of protection racket by the local clan, refusing to pay the "pizzo" can lead to attacks on property, family and even murder.

Swayed by his example some businessmen and company owners came forward to denounce the clan. Grass roots organizations like "Addiopizzo" appeared aiming to create a group of consumers in Sicily ready to support businesses who stand up against the racket and denounce their extorters.

Grassi was gunned down by the clan on Aug. 29 and is still seen as a national hero by many in Italy for his brave stance.