Germany fears Mafia foothold

Click to follow
The Independent Online
GERMAN officials sounded alarming warnings yesterday of an upsurge in organised crime, as Giuliano Amato, Italy's Prime Minister, said that the Mafia was a problem for all states to tackle. The warnings come after the murder of two leading anti-Mafia judges - Paolo Borsellino, eight days ago in Sicily, and Giovanni Falcone, on 23 May.

According to Hans-Ludwig Zachert, head of Germany's criminal office, Mafia gangs have already established a strong foothold in the country. In an interview with the Berlin-based BZ newspaper yesterday, Mr Zachert said that between 1989 and 1991, 68 investigations had been launched into Mafia-related crimes. He said that two men involved in the murder of Judge Rosario Livatino in Sicily in late 1990 had been arrested near Cologne, having returned to work as waiters in a pizzeria on the same day as the killing.

'We know that Mafia members retreat to Germany as a place of peace,' he said. 'We know that they are active here . . . and we have noticed a marked increase in the level of corruption in Germany.'

Officials in the criminal department confirmed yesterday that shortly before he was murdered last week, Borsellino had visited Mr Zachert to compare notes on how to combat the Mafia.

According to other newspaper reports, the meeting was one of several between the two men aimed at rounding up the Mafia ringleaders in Germany. The Bild am Sonntag newspaper reported that 28 Mafia suspects had been arrested in Germany over the past three months as a result of tip-offs from Borsellino. Citing Italian police officials, it alleged that Borsellino's killers came from Germany.

Mr Zachert said that Borsellino was 'directly involved' in the arrests and extradition of Mafia members in Germany, who have been particularly active in the regional states of Baden-Wurttemberg, North-Rhine Westphalia and Bavaria.

German officials believe that Mafia crime has grown considerably over the past 10 years. 'The figures we have are just the tip of the iceberg,' said Leo Hau of the Criminal Office. 'We are convinced that there is a very large Mafia underworld.'

Hermann Lutz, head of the police trade union, estimated yesterday that through drugs, prostitution and protection money demands, the Mafia earns at least DM1bn (pounds 357m) a year in Germany. Earlier this summer, other police union chiefs said that the Mafia was becoming heavily involved in eastern Germany, buying up businesses and properties with laundered money and even exerting influence over local politicians. Citing Italian secret service sources, the union chiefs said that the Mafia had invested DM72bn in eastern Germany - a figure quickly dismissed as impossibly high by German authorities.

With Mafia engagement in Germany increasing, police chiefs are pressing for greater powers - including the right to use bugging devices and television monitors - in combating organised crime.

A report from the European Parliament earlier this year warned of the spread of organised crime in Europe linked to drug trafficking, saying that it was having 'increasingly serious effects on society and on the political institutions of member states'.

Germany is an attractive target. 'They started in Munich, then worked their way to Frankfurt and Hamburg,' said Gerhard Schmid, leader of the German Socialist group at the European Parliament, who worked on the report. 'But they are working, not just in the cities, but also in the countryside.'

The European Parliament committee of inquiry warned that 'the financial centres of Germany, and notably Frankfurt, are increasingly used for money laundering operations by organised crime syndicates'. It also reported that 'there have been sporadic cases of German civil servants being involved in drugs trafficking and (the German authorities) recognise that this problem is becoming increasingly important'.

The German warning came as Italy's Prime Minister Giuliano Amato called on the world to take on the Mafia. He appealed for international help. 'We know why it's called Cosa Nostra (Our Thing), but it's not something that's only Italian,' he said. 'Sometimes when the Mafia manages to strike in Italy, the reason is that something went wrong, that too much elbow room was given (to the Mafia) - not necessarily in Italy, but elsewhere,' he added.

A senior police inspector was killed in Catania, Sicily's second city, despite massive security precautions on the island.