In conditions where the lockdown protocols in place over the COVID-19 pandemic have left many citizens in a difficult financial situation, the Italian Mafia is handing out food to needy residents and offering interest-free loans as it seeks to capitalize on the crisis, says Roberto Saviano, an expert on mafia groups, quoted by The Guardian.
Author of the script for Italian crime drama Gomorrah, Saviano was cited as telling journalists on 9 April that mobsters were distributing groceries to the poorest Italians while expecting to cash in on the favours when the pandemic- triggered crisis is over.
As Italy awaits European funding that might help prop up its flailing economy, the investigative journalist insists that the Mafia bosses are also getting their hands on businesses that have been struggling to cope amidst the pandemic.
Saviano, currently under police protection in New York after the release of the series, says that in Italy's southern capital Naples, moneylenders have cancelled interest on debt at the express orders of the Mafia, or Camorra, as the Italian organized crime syndicate is also called.
“For what purpose? For favours,” warns Saviano.
The benefits that the criminals are hoping to thus gain might be votes, or allowing someone to put their name on a contract as a front for the mafia, according to the expert.
The concerns aired by Saviano are echoed by law enforcement and officials.
“For over a month, shops, cafés, restaurants and pubs have been closed…The government is issuing so-called to support people…If the state doesn’t step in soon to help these families, the mafia will provide its services, imposing their control over people’s lives,” Nicola Gratteri, head of the prosecutor’s office in Catanzaro, Calabria, was quoted as saying by The Guardian.
The official added that millions of Italians were employed in the so-called “grey economy”, with the current lockdowns stripping them of a means of generating income for more than a month.
The free food distribution was a ploy that the mafia regularly resorted to in such crisis situations, said the prosecutor, as a means of garnering subsequent support for their criminal ambitions, noting that the country’s south, less affluent than the north, was particularly vulnerable to mafia infiltration.
Police numbers have been boosted to the poorer regions of Naples, where criminal organisations have started distributing food packages to the needy, with La Repubblica earlier reporting that a brother of a Mafia boss was distributing such aid in Palermo.
In March, as Italy was struggling with the coronavirus crisis, the top government anti-mafia investigator Giuseppe Governale had revealed that the mobsters were “already carefully planning ahead to when the economy will start to be rebuilt… There will be a lot of money going around.”
The head of Italy’s anti-mafia investigation directorate (DIA) added:
“They will be looking for loopholes in the system. We'll have to keep our eyes open for... suspicious operations, the creation of new companies, dummy corporations.”
On 8 April the head of the Catholic church Pope Francis deplored “the mafiosi and the loan sharks” taking advantage of the population in the crisis conditions, as he spoke at the start of his morning Mass, live-streamed from Casa Santa Marta in Vatican City.
Italy, one of the European countries particularly hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, currently has over 147, 500 registered cases, with the death toll at over 18, 800, according to Johns Hopkins University.