Who is not against the Mafia in Italy? Author Roberto Saviano raises controversial question

Opinion: Renzi accused of reducing the fight against organised crime to ‘just one’ of Italy’s problems

Italian writer Roberto Saviano (centre): ‘Asked on television this week if this week’s court ruling had tempted him to leave Italy, Saviano’s reply to the programme presenter was nothing if not eloquently laconic, saying: “And were you tempted to leave?”.’ Photograph: EPA/CIRO FUSCO

Italian writer Roberto Saviano (centre): ‘Asked on television this week if this week’s court ruling had tempted him to leave Italy, Saviano’s reply to the programme presenter was nothing if not eloquently laconic, saying: “And were you tempted to leave?”.’ Photograph: EPA/CIRO FUSCO

 

Paddy Agnew in Rome

“I am sorry to say this but in all these difficult and complicated years I’ve always had the impression that the “strongest” part of the country is not really against the Mafia. No, on the contrary, only a part of this country, a part which I would call the best of Italy, is against the Mafia . . .”

The speaker is 35-year-old Neapolitan writer, Roberto Saviano, the man whose 2006 exposé of the camorra (Naples mafia), Gormorrah not only made him an international bestselling author but also earned him mafia death threats. Saviano made the above comment to Rome daily, La Repubblica, this week in the wake of a controversial court ruling in Naples involving him.

The story goes back to March 14th, 2008 during the so-called “Spartacus Trial”, a 12-year-long trial which concluded with life sentences for 16 camorristi, many of them members of the so-called Casalesi clan. In court that morning in Santa Maria Capua Vetere, near Caserta in the Campania region, the defence lawyer for two of the mafiosi defendants, Francesco Bidognetti and Antonio Iovine, made a chilling statement .

In theory, the lawyer, Michele Santonasto, was asking that the case be moved to another court. He read out a letter written by his clients in which they argued that they could not have a fair trial in Santa Maria Capua Vetere, partly because of the influence of local journalists Saviano and Rosaria Cappachione (these days a Democratic Party senator). By 2008, Saviano’s book, Gomorrah, of course, had already pointed a very heavily accusatory finger at the Casalesi clan.

In practice, the reading of that letter in court was a death threat, in particular against Saviano. At the time, the writer was already living with 24-hour police protection, but the impact of the letter was such that the Ministry of the Interior opted to increase his protection from three to five police officers.

The courtroom letter also led to charges being filed against lawyer Santonasto and his two camorra clients, accused of issuing threats of “a mafia-style finality”. That was the case which came to court this week, arriving at a controversial sentence which found the lawyer guilty but absolved his two camorra clients.

“This is an obvious contradiction ... If the court rules that the lawyer is guilty of making threats on behalf of the clan, which clan members ordered these threats then? . . . During this trial, I felt very alone. . . At a certain point, it was clear that there were those who wanted to put me on trial. In one sense, that make me proud because it means that the part of this country which remained silent, omertosa and colluded (with the camorra), that part found itself in trouble thanks to my words. . .”, commented Saviano in the courthouse this week.

Which leaves us with one very large and very uncomfortable question. Who and what is the “strongest” part of the country which colludes with organised crime? Clearly, we are talking about a minority of politicians, businessmen, judges, police officers, lawyers, journalists and others. But are they linked to any common denominator other than money?

Was it entirely coincidental that the centre-right party of media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi won 61 seats out of 61 at the 2001 general election in Sicily? Does it mean nothing that the man who created Forza Italia for Mr Berlusconi, namely his lifelong friend and business associate, Marcello Dell’Utri, was sentenced definitively to seven years for Mafia collusion in a Palermo court last May?

In the sentence which concluded the first hearing of the Dell’Utri case (it began in 1996), the court concluded that Mr Dell’Utri’s “activities” had represented a “concrete, willing, conscious, specific and precious contribution to the maintenance, consolidation and strengthening of Cosa Nostra (Sicilian Mafia)”. In effect, argued the court, Mr Dell’Utri, in return for votes, had offered Cosa Nostra business contacts and opportunities as well as political favours. Are we talking about the “strongest” part of the country here?

Roberto Saviano’s sense of disappointment this week extended itself to the current right-left coalition government of Matteo Renzi which he accuses of doing little and of reducing the fight against organised crime to “just one” of Italy’s problems, adding: “Italy should have made more use of its term of EU Presidency, it should have proposed anti-recycling (of money) laws at EU level. . . but when it comes to contrasting the various mafia, the Renzi government has done little. . .”

Asked on television this week if this week’s court ruling had tempted him to leave Italy, Saviano’s reply to the programme presenter was nothing if not eloquently laconic, saying: “And were you tempted to leave?”

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