Secrets of who pays what to Sicilian Mafia revealed for first time

An accounts book has fallen into the hands of the Sicilian police that reveals for the first time the rules and regulations which dictate who must pay pizzo - protection money - to the Mafia, how much they must pay, and who is exempt.

The ledger, which details illegal protection payments for the Vucciria area of Palermo, provides the most detailed picture yet of how the Mafia continues to control commercial activity in the Sicilian capital, more than 10 years after it gave up the gun.

The discovery comes amid renewed controversy over the power and importance of the Mafia stirred up by a television documentary at the weekend which claimed that 80 per cent of Sicilian businesses pay pizzo.

The governor of the island, Salvatore Cuffaro, himself under investigation for Mafia connections, sent a letter of protest about the programme to the Italian head of state, President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, and demanded a special meeting of the "vigilance committee" of RAI, the Italian state broadcaster.

"To say that, in today's Sicily, 80 per cent of businessmen must pay pizzo or else, and that those who refuse are forced to live under armed guard, is false," he said. "This causes huge damage to our image precisely at the moment when tens of big entrepreneurs from the north are arriving to invest in the island ... Only 5 to 10 per cent [of shopkeepers] pay pizzo. If the magistrates say otherwise, I don't believe them."

But Mr Cuffaro may find it harder to refute the line-by-line, street-by-street evidence of Mafia extortion contained in the accounts book confiscated from a small-time mobster arrested recently in Palermo.

Leaked to La Repubblica newspaper, the book reveals that the Mafia operates a graded tariff, with small shops paying €500 (£350) to €1000 per quarter, upmarket shops such as jewellers paying €2,500 to €3,000 and big shops paying €5,000.

Shopkeepers with family members in prison are exempt, as are those with relatives in the police force and those who suffer a bereavement, who are let off a single quarterly payment. New shops setting up in the area are obliged to make a hefty downpayment. Mafiosi coming into the area from outside have to pay 3 per cent of their take to the local bosses.

The quarterly payment is collected by young mobsters with nice manners who usually have no criminal record. Most shopkeepers, claims La Repubblica, are happy to pay up.The fact that the jewellers of Palermo's Via Giovanni Meli don't need to lock their doors is thanks to the pizzo. "In Giovanni Meli it is forbidden to rob, forbidden to harass. The 30-odd jewellers along the street all have their doors open."

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