Nato base in Sicily gave contracts to Mafia

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Warrants have been issued for 21 suspects who allegedly worked to ensure that millions of dollars in contracts for a Nato air base would go to companies controlled by the Mafia, authorities said yesterday.

Among the suspects was Benedetto Santapaola, an imprisoned convicted mob boss considered the Mafia's number one in eastern Sicily. Investigators believe many bosses manage to run their affairs even from behind bars.

Two suspected bosses from Santapaola's clan were among those arrested, authorities said.

No US citizens were involved, but a British citizen working at Sigonella air base, identified by officials at DIA, the Italian anti-Mafia investigative unit, as Raymond Watkins of Bristol, was among the suspects.

Sicilian businessmen were also named in warrants for their alleged role in the scheme, including lending their "clean" names to serve as officials of front companies for the Mafia.

Thanks to information from some of the suspects, bidders from the Mafia- linked companies were able to learn what competitors were bidding and thus deliver the lowest bid.

- AP, Catania