Italian mobs buy their way into France: As forces of law and order combat crime across borders in Europe, an Amnesty report exposes the rot in their own ranks

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The Independent Online
RICH Italian consortiums are moving money north of the border into France in search of a more stable economic environment for their investments. The only problem is that the consortiums are the Sicilian Mafia, the Neapolitan Camorra and the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta.

A report prepared for the French National Assembly to be released today disclosed 'a Sicilian cell' in the city of Grenoble, front companies in Monaco and money laundered through the French- and Dutch-administered Caribbean island of Saint Martin. Typical investment projects, it said, were large tourist complexes on the Cote d'Azur.

The report, leaked to the French press, said that, while Mafia involvement was mainly limited to investing the proceeds of organised crime, this would lead logically to the Italian syndicates becoming important players in the French underworld.

The publication of the report, prepared by Francois d'Aubert, a deputy from the centre-right Union for French Democracy, and Bertrand Gallet of the Socialist Party, was preceded by an announcement that France was sending a juge d'instruction, an examining magistrate, to its Rome embassy.

Michel Debacq will be the official liaison with Liliana Ferrero, who took over the Italian fight against the Mafia after her predecessors, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, were assassinated last year.

The Interior Ministry also announced the appointment of Jacques Poinas, a police inspector and former deputy head of the anti-terrorist unit, as head of a new Anti-Mafia Co-ordination and Research Unit (Ucram).

Mr Debacq, a former Marseilles magistrate, was assistant to Pierre Michel, a top 'French connection' investigator murdered by a gunman in October 1981. Coincidentally, police in Cyprus said yesterday they had arrested Charles Altieri, sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia in 1991 for Michel's murder. They said they had detained him, travelling on false Belgian papers, at Larnaca airport on Monday.

One case which Mr Debacq handled in Marseilles was the 'Clinics' war', a colourful classic of Mafia operations in France. This came to a head three years ago when Jean-Jacques Pechard, a surgeon and mayor of a city district, was shot dead outside a restaurant where he had been dining. A man arrested for pulling the trigger said he had done so on the orders of Raymond Gallo, another doctor and town councillor.

The central issue, investigators said, was the market in beds in private clinics. Private beds, in which patient care is often paid for by the state, make up 37 per cent of all French hospital places. Clinics provided a discreet haven for dubious funds, the investigators said.

The parliamentary report said that, aided by the anonymity offered by Monaco-registered companies, Italian organised crime invested in Riviera property. It named Giancarlo Casaccia, a resident in the principality, whose latest venture was a 30-storey luxury block of flats in Beausoleil. It said he bought the golf course of Pierrevert in the southern Alps in 1991, a purchase which, in the report's words, 'lets off a mafioso smell'.

Alleged Mafia involvement in the south of France has sometimes been more spectacular. Nice's 'Casino war' during the 1970s was blamed on the Mafia. The Palais de la Mediterranee casino was closed because of bankruptcy after a group of gamblers won the equivalent of pounds 500,000 in one evening.

Agnes Le Roux, the daughter of the casino's owner, disappeared in 1977 and is presumed dead. At the time, she was the girlfriend of a lawyer, since disbarred from practising and jailed for offences not connected with the Nice affair, who represented the rival Casino du Ruhl. Another three people connected to the Cote d'Azur casino world were murdered.

One alleged Camorra leader, Michele Zaza, was arrested at his villa near Nice in 1989. He was sentenced to three years in prison in 1991 for cigarette smuggling. Mr Zaza, now released, lives under police surveillance, effectively house arrest.

Grenoble was famous in the 1970s for the 'Italo-Grenoblois' underground which reached down as far as the coast but which, police insisted at the time, had no connections with Italian crime.

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