An Italian court ordered €1.3bn in mafia assets to be seized from Sicily’s “Lord of the wind” today – the largest such confiscation in the country’s history.
The court in Trapani ordered the record amount of assets – which included dozens of alternative energy companies – to be taken from Vito Nicastri, a businessman with known links to the Sicilian Mafia, which is also known as the Cosa Nostra.
Nicastri, who earned his nickname through his interests in vast wind farms, invested money made from extortion, drug sales and other illegal activities for the Sicilian Mafia's most sought-after fugitive, Matteo Messina Denaro, who is believed to be the Cosa Nostra’s head boss.
In 2010, it emerged that Cosa Nostra was attempting to take millions of euros from both the Italian government and the European Union by snatching the generous grants on offer for investment in wind power and environmentally-friendly business.
General Antonio Girone, then head of the national anti-Mafia agency DIA, said Mr Nicastri had built up a huge alternative energy business at the behest of the organised crime syndicate.
In addition to halting the giant eco-scam, Italian prosecutors said the seizure of 66 bank accounts, as well as property and businesses, would be another body blow to Cosa Nostra’s leadership, which is already reeling from dozens of high-profile arrests in the past ten years.
The assets grab is part of investigators’ “scorched earth” policy aimed at draining Denaro's resources and “exposing him,” police said. Assets were also seized in Lazio and Calabria, and the northern region of Lombardy.
“With this action we are continuing to burn the land around the leading figures in organised crime,” said Arturo de Felice, director of the Anti-Mafia Investigations Directorate (Dia).
Denaro, nicknamed 'Diabolik' after a cult Italian comic strip criminal, earned a reputation for brutality by murdering a rival Trapani boss and strangling his girlfriend who was three months pregnant.
He became the number one boss in the Cosa Nostra following the capture of Palermo mobster Salvatore Lo Piccolo in November 2007.
Over the past decade, thanks to generous subsidies, wind farms in Italy have grown by 20 per cent per year, and the Sicily mafia soon plugged into this new source of income.
Beppe Ruggiero, an official with the anti-Mafia association Libera, said he hoped wind power was here to stay, but he warned that vigilance for possible involvement for organised crime must continue.