Mafia 'buys up its own island in the Caribbean'

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ROME - A James Bond fantasy may be coming true on the small Caribbean island of Aruba, writes Patricia Clough. A powerful Sicilian Mafia family is reported to have bought up much of the island with the aim of turning it into an independent Mafia state.

The Caruana-Cuntrera clan, drug-money launderers, recyclers and investors to the Mafia, have bought up 60 per cent of Aruba's land and all its economic activities, according to the daily Corriere della Sera. They have heavily financed the election campaign of the present government, although the 60,000-odd inhabitants are not aware who their new bosses are.

The Cuntreras and Caruanas, who are closely related, are Sicilians operating in Venezuela and it was regarded as a big blow to the Mafia's financial arrangements when the brothers Pasquale, Paolo and Gaspare Cuntrera were extradited to Italy last October. They are now on the less hospitable prison island of Pianosa.

However, Alfonso Caruana, thought to be the real financial brains of the family, is still at large and three Cuntrera cousins, all called Giuseppe, are thought to have taken refuge in Aruba, the Corriere said. Aruba, just off the coast of Venezuela, is a largely self-governing island belonging to the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The competent Dutch and the Italian authorities were not available for comment.

About the same time they moved, the cousins also sold a vast area of land they owned along 125 kilometres of border between Venezuela and Colombia and over which they had absolute rule. The buyers were representatives of the Gambino Mafia family from New York.

Investigators tracked down their activities in Aruba after discoveries made when the three brothers' homes were raided in Caracas in September. They seized computer records containing evidence of a dollars 28m deal to buy vast amounts of building material at knock-down prices. The material was to build hotels, restaurants and casinos in Aruba.

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