Bada bing! mafia harvests cash with dodgy olive oil and cheese
Italian crime gangs use downturn to expand farm holdings
A third of all business in the Italian agricultural sector in 2013 was linked to illegal activities, including the production of counterfeit products such as olive oil
Italy’s mafia has taken advantage of the deteriorating economy and tight lending conditions brought about by the country’s three-year recession by expanding in the agricultural sector.
According to the latest annual report by Coldiretti, Italy’s national agricultural association and Eurispes, a think-tank, organised crime groups last year saw the value of their business tied to agriculture rise by 10 per cent to €15.4billionn in 2013.
Eurispes calculated that 32 per cent of all business in the agricultural sector in 2013 was linked to illegal activities, including the production of counterfeit products such as olive oil and mozzarella cheese as well as distribution and sales networks.
“More and more [agricultural activities] are being penetrated and influenced by criminal power,” says Gian Maria Fara, chairman of Eurispes, adding that there is no “free zone” and that the “illegal powers” are succeeding in a “vampirisation” of the country’s resources. The previous report, covering 2012, estimated 29.5 per cent of all activity in the agricultural sector was linked to illegal groups.
Matteo Renzi, Italy’s prime minister, has made cracking down on corruption and battling Mafia infiltration in business one of the priorities of his first year in power, particularly after scandals involving the Moses flood prevention barrier in Venice, the Milan Expo and illegality in the Rome municipality.
Traditionally restaurants have been one of the businesses dominated by organised crime, especially through franchises and chains. The Camorra - the name given to the Mafia group from the region of the city of Naples - has a heavy presence in this sector.
Organised criminal activity in Italy’s farming sector flourished last year because of bad weather which damaged crop production and allowed criminal groups to sell more counterfeit products.
The tightening of credit conditions since the financial crisis has also meant that smaller companies have either closed, thus leaving more space for illegal activities, or turned to organised crime for money.
Italy’s broader economy recently fell back into recession for the third time in six years, which has resulted in a 9 per cent fall in output since 2008 and led to unemployment rising to over 12 per cent.
Roberto Moncalvo, head of Coldiretti, called for action to stop the illegal phenomenon damaging “such a strategic sector of the Italian economy”, which employs almost 4 per cent of the legal working population.
“The phenomenon has collateral effects such as social costs, market dumping and unfair competition, with the illegal activities driving the honest companies out of business and putting their labour force at risk,” says Mr Moncalvo.
The report also unveiled a new phenomenon called “money dirtying” - worth some €1.5billion in 2014, by which money from legal agricultural activities is invested in the black market.
It also found that, unlike in the drugs or weapons black market, regional crime groups were co-operating in specific areas and products that they had built a presence in.