Italy's mob warning: Slack EU laws allow a new breed of criminal to threaten member states

Other European countries have not learnt from the Italian experience of fighting organised crime
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The Independent Online

Mafia groups are colonising Europe because the EU has not taken Italy's advice on how to fight organised crime, according to an eminent criminal law expert. The warning follows revelations that a wholly new mafia-style organisation has emerged in Italy – and it wants to expand overseas.

Paola Severino, the former justice minister whose eponymous anti-corruption law led to Silvio Berlusconi being expelled from parliament last year due to a conviction for tax fraud, said Italian crime syndicates saw EU countries as soft targets.

"Criminal organisations are constantly looking for places that are less protected, with less surveillance and anti-money laundering laws that are less stringent," she said, while launching a report on organised crime by the Luiss University mafia monitoring unit.

Ms Severino, a top criminal lawyer, alongside her Luiss colleagues, said mob clans originally from Sicily, Naples and Calabria were infiltrating the north of Italy and other EU economies. They noted that seven years on from the infamous pizza restaurant massacre in the German town of Duisburg (when six members of the Nirta-Strangio family of 'Ndrangheta were gunned down by the rival Pelle-Romeo clan) the EU still had not adopted versions of the Italian laws.

Luca Tritto, one of the report's authors, said: "The incredible thing is that basic money laundering measures may have stopped that criminal activity." He said the opening up of the European market had brought new opportunities for mafia groups to reinvest their criminal gains, and 'Ndrangheta, the powerful Calabrian crime syndicate, had led the way.

Germany's national police agency, Bundeskriminalamt, has estimated there are 229 clans of 'Ndrangheta and 900 affiliates operating in the country.

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Top criminal lawyer Paola Severino was Italy’s first justice minister (AFP)

Despite this, EU member states have seemingly failed to copy Italy's surveillance and anti-laundering methods, honed by decades fighting the mafia.

"The legislation is less punitive than the Italian system. So far, no country has adopted laws that are similar," said Mr Tritto – although individual members states, notably Ireland, are said to have expressed an interest in learning from Italy's experience.

Figures on mafia activity around Europe, presented to the EC this year by the Italian government after it assumed the rotating presidency, show that 'Ndrangheta is highly active in France and Spain, as well as Germany.

The UK is not immune. The figures, seen by The Independent on Sunday, suggest there were up to 20 incidents or probes in Britain related to Camorra, the Naples-based mob, cited by Italian police between 2000 and 2011.

The report, written by 20 anti-mafia experts, said that "Mafia groups are benefiting from globalisation". It called for the establishment of a new European prosecutor to achieve Continent-wide consistency in the fight against organised crime.

A spokesman for Europol, the EU's law enforcement agency, would not comment on the suggestion that more effective EU-wide anti-money laundering regulations were needed.

Ms Severino said the situation was further complicated by new mafia-type groups. One large crime syndicate in Ostia, near Rome, is new, unconnected to established mafia groups and appears to have swiftly developed international links.

"This shows," said Ms Severino, "that no region is immune. Everyone should be aware that we're dealing with an international phenomenon."

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