Mobsters 'out to make a killing from the quake'

Acclaimed writer who exposed Naples mafia warns organised crime gangs will target rebuilding contracts

Roberto Saviano, the best-selling author of Gomorrah, says the flood of aid money pouring into the earthquake-hit Abruzzo region risks making the area a prime target for organised crime.

Mr Saviano, whose non-fiction book has sold more than 1.8 million copies and has been translated into 43 languages, issued the warning in La Repubblica newspaper yesterday after touring the devastated zones. He has lived in hiding under police protection since bosses of the Camorra, the Naples mafia, threatened to kill him for "insulting" them and revealing secrets of their operations in his book, which has also been made into a powerful film.

Saviano recalled how the disastrous earthquake in Irpinia, near Naples, in 1980 – which killed 2,735 people and made 230,000 homeless – turned into a vast business opportunity for organised crime. "What is a tragedy for this population," he wrote, "for someone else can become an opportunity, a bottomless mine, a paradise of profit."

Although it is close to the southern parts of Italy where the power of the Mob is strongest, Mr Saviano says that Abruzzo has been relatively ignored to date by the mafias of Campania and Calabria because "it lacked the possibility of doing big business". But the gangsters, he reports, are not far away. Eighty senior Mafia gangsters are incarcerated in the L'Aquila jail, or rather they were, until the Interior Minister ordered their urgent transfer in case the prison should collapse in an aftershock.

Senior mafiosi still at liberty have in recent years met in Abruzzo to hatch their plots. An important narcotics smuggler called Diego Leon Montoya Sanchez, one of the FBI's 10 most wanted criminals, has a base in Abruzzo while others have found its wild and thinly-populated mountains ideal country for evading arrest. Its national parkland has also offered ideal dumping grounds for the traffickers in dangerous waste who play a key part in the Camorra gang world in Naples.

But all of this, Saviano warns, could be a mere appetiser compared to the feast of corruption and infiltration that the billions of reconstruction money may provoke. What happened after the Irpini earthquake stands as an awful warning. About 55 billion lira in aid poured into the region but 10 years later, one in three earthquake victims was still living in a pre-fab. Only a fraction of the money reached the victims while building contractors, local politicians and the Camorra prospered.

The rescue effort in Abruzzo has been infinitely quicker and slicker than that in Irpinia, where the first army teams arrived without the right equipment almost 24 hours after the quake struck.

Spearheaded by the Civil Protection Force, which was created as a result of the failures in Irpinia, the Abruzzo blitz accommodated the tens of thousands of homeless in tents and fed and cared for them at lightning speed.

But Saviano warns that, just as at Irpinia, there is an army of construction professionals waiting for the opportunity to dive into the re-building trough.

"Designers, surveyors, engineers and architects are on the point of invading Abruzzo, thanks to an instrument that appears innocuous but which is the starting gun for the invasion of cement: the form declaring damage incurred by the houses. In the coming days, the forms will be distributed to the municipal technical offices of all the districts of Abruzzo. Hundreds of forms for thousands of inspections. Whoever has that piece of paper in hand will have the certainty of receiving excellent remuneration, fed by an incredible system."

At Irpinia, the corruption came about because it was often the same official who approved the reconstruction payment and who was directly involved in the reconstruction itself. The huge sums pouring into the region also led to more and more towns claiming to have been damaged by the quake – the number jumped from 143 to 690. The net result was that many of the truly needy remained uncompensated, the pushy and unscrupulous grew fat, and the Camorra made hay.

How to avoid those mistakes in Abruzzo? "The only thing to do," Saviano says, "is to create a commission with the power to monitor reconstruction. Because the risks of criminal infiltration are enormous... The only real homage we can pay to those who have died in this earthquake is not to allow speculation to win as it has in the past."

Highlights from Saviano's article

"The people of Abruzzo have been saved by an unstinting effort which belies every commonplace about the Italians being lazy or indifferent to suffering.

"But the price that this region will have to pay could be very high... The terror of what happened at Irpinia nearly 30 years ago, the waste, the corruption, the political and criminal monopoly of the reconstruction [risks being repeated]... The risk of reconstruction is precisely this: the appraisals of damage increase, the money increases, the contracts generate sub-contracts and the cycle of cement, earth moving, bulldozers and construction brings in the avant-garde of construction sub-contracting in Italy: the Mob. The Camorra, 'ndrangheta and Mafia families have always been here... The risk, precisely in times of crisis like this, is that the criminal organisations arrive to divide up the great business opportunities of Italy between them...

"Franco Arminio, one of the leading poets of this region, the best who has ever written about earthquakes and what they generate, writes in one of his poems: 'Twenty-five years after the earthquake, little remains of the dead. And of the living, even less.'

"We are still in time to prevent this happening in Abruzzo."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?