ITALY’S financial capital is nothing like Reggio Calabria. Yet when Reggio’s city council was dissolved early last month, Milanese prosecutors promptly arrested Lombardy’s head of housing, Domenico Zambetti, on accusations of aiding subsidiaries of the ’Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia. The police had already arrested 37 ’Ndrangheta suspects in Lombardy. In the number of confiscations of firms and properties in 2010 and 2011, Lombardy lags behind only the southern regions, which are far better known for the mafia.
“The mafia has always been here. What we’re now seeing is evolution, with organised crime increasingly acquiring legitimate businesses,” says Claudio Gittardi, one of 12 prosecutors in Milan’s anti-mafia team. Alberto Barcella, chairman of Confindustria Lombardia, the local business association, says members do not always know what they are up against. “Mafiosi work subtly. They wear jackets and ties, don’t carry shotguns,” he says.
Nando dalla Chiesa, a professor of criminology at Milan university, adviser to the mayor and son of a Carabinieri general killed by the Mafia in Palermo 30 years ago, worries that infiltration of the Italian economy by organised crime has risen. “Everything is negotiable here, everything for sale, and the ’Ndrangheta has the cash,” he says.
Italy’s economic woes create new opportunities for mafiosi to take over troubled firms. A parallel economy run by the mafia is a scary prospect for legitimate firms. Mafia firms are unconstrained by ethical concerns about tax evasion, labour laws or safety standards; and their money and readiness to bribe can create a competitive advantage. Construction, for example, is big business for the ’Ndrangheta. It is no surprise that attention should focus on Milan’s Expo 2015, for which a tender for site preparation worth €165m ($210m) was awarded in July. Firms are now being asked to bid for a further €59m of work, with more to come.
Earlier this year Mr Barcella joined trade union bosses in Lombardy to call for more action against the mafia. But prosecutors want Confindustria to do more to encourage members to report extortion. A wall of silence is part of the way in which lawyers, accountants and bankers help the mafia. “Aren’t they suspicious? Do they really not know that certain operations are suspect?” asks Mr Gittardi, pointedly.