Schizophrenia about mafia
At the same time as the prime minister says that he is defeating mafia and is actually arresting hundreds and confiscating millions of eurosworth of property, one of his senators calls a mafioso a hero and a minister is indicted for links with the camorra. Evidence emerges that government and mafia were negotiating even as the mafia committed its most spectacular murder, of Giovanni Falcone in 1992. Is all this schizophrenia?
In his third term as prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi has turned his focus on one of Italy’s most intractable problems – organised crime. In his speeches from 2000 to 2006, he used the word mafia only fourteen times, eight of which were metaphorical; it was not an issue high on his agenda. Since his re-election, he and his ministers have come hammered away on what they reckon are the government’s success in fighting mafia. In March, Berlusconi went as far as to declare confidently that “In three years, we will defeat mafia, camorra and ndrangheta”. Some claim. He repeated the promise last week retreating slightly from “will defeat” to “it is a priority” but never shy of superlatives, he said that “no other government has done better than us”.
The Minister of the Interior, Roberto Maroni has been less improbable in his statements but he has said that the techniques used against the camorra are a “model of excellence” and can be used against the other groups. He claimed government credit for arresting 300 members of the ndrangheta in Calabria and Lombardy last week and the following day for launching a government agency to manage goods confiscated from organised crime.
There is no doubt that organised crime is one of Italy’s biggest issues, one which affects citizens’ security, the growth of the economy and even the state’s own role in controlling territory. In four regions, the mafia in Sicily, the ‘ndrangheta in Calabria, the camorra in Campania and the Sacred United Crown in Apulia, organised crime conditions public order, politics and the economy. They have powerful influence in other regions, particularly around Rome in Latium and around Milan in Lombardy. Although there are major differences in the structures and methods of the four groups, they all have a number of features in common.
Long before MBA students were being taught to “think glocal”, the gangsters were doing it. They acted locally and thought globally and have now honed that business model very effectively. The local element is the protection racket which allows each group to control territory socially and economically; it also means that they have to develop mutually beneficial links with local politics. Extortion generates some cash but is not the biggest source of income. At the same time they have developed national and international links providing legal and illegal goods and services. Recent estimates reckon that the four together have a turnover of €90-100 bn. or 6-7.5% gdp. Bank of Italy governor, Mario Draghi has argued that organised crime not only stifles economic development but has accentuated the effects of the crisis in the south.
So there is every reason to fight organised crime strenuously and the ndrangheta arrests and camorra confiscations are certainly positive steps, but despite these undoubted successes, there is an irony in Berlusconi’s boasts.
This week will see a bitter parliamentary battle over a government bill limiting the use of telephone taps. The bill is strongly opposed by both police and magistrates as a serious impediment to investigations. One of the Calabrians arrested last week complained that their biggest fear was the phone tap and the last mafia chief arrested, Bernardo Provenzano famously only used pizzini, notes on paper to avoid electronic surveillance. The bill is hardly a message of toughness on organised crime especially when resources to the law enforcement agencies are being cut in the austerity budget which is also before parliament.
Even more contradictory is the stream of evidence that far from being government’s antagonist, mafia, camorra and ndrangheta are government’s allies or at least very close to numbers of politicians at all levels.
The minister of justice, Angelino Alfano and the president of the Senate Renato Schifani started as lawyers in Palermo; it is worth remembering that Italian advocates are not surgically neutral QCs who happily jump from defence to prosecution. Years ago, Schifani was in partnership with two men who later went on to be convicted for mafia crimes. He sued the journalist who broke this news and lost. Alfano too has been accused of social and possibly electoral connections with mafiosi.Neither Alfano nor Schifani though have been convicted or even indicted but political responsibility is not criminal responsibility.
Much more serious is the case of Marcello Dell’Utri, friend of Berlusconi’s for almost 50 years, business associate for 40 and political partner for 20. He has just been convicted on appeal to 7 years in gaol for external association with mafia. This was a reduction from the 9 years handed down by the court of first instance. Importantly, the Court of Appeal said that the links with mafia had stopped in 1992. Dell’Utri celebrated the reduction and his apparent cessation of links. He called Vittorio Mangano a “hero” because he had not turned state’s evidence. Mangano was the mafioso with whom Dell’Utri and Berlusconi had had most constant contact.
Quite apart from the criminal liability proven in court, there is once again, almost no consciousness of the political responsibility of maintaining a close working relationship with a convicted mafia killer. Berlusconi employed Mangano for two year as part of his household staff.
For the future, the undersecretary for the economy who resigned last week, Nicola Cosentino face trial for his links with the camorra. When he was appointed, his indictments were known.
For the past, there is mounting evidence that the mafia was closely involved in the foundation of Berlusconi’s party Forza Italia in 1992-94 (hence Dell’Utri’s celebration that the court had excluded any mafia association after 1992). Some mafiosi who have turned state’s evidence have already named Berlusconi and Forza Italia arguing that the bomb campain carried out by mafia at the time only stopped because a political arrangement had been reached.
The reconstruction of facts seems to work. The mafia’s old reference, Giulio Andreotti, was removed by killing his man in Palermo (Salvatore Lima March ’92) and Giovanni Falcone the day before Andreotti was due to be elected President (May ’92). Then Falcone’s close friend and colleague was killed (the anniversary is today 19 July). The mafia then moved out of Sicily and used terrorist tactics “on the continent”; bombs in Milan, Florence and Rome (May-July ’93). They put a bomb at a Rome football match in December but the detonator failed and they only called off a repeat because a deal had been struck with Forza Italia. The most significant source is Massimo Ciancimino, the son of Palermo’s most notorious mafia mayor, Vito. He obviously has his own agenda and is releasing his information with the care of a research chemist with a pipette. He has stated that Provenzano produced a list of twelve domands to a future collaborator; these included the abolition of a special tough anti-mafia law and a new Sicilian party. Some conditions were indeed accepted by both left and right wing government.
Whether Ciancimino’s evidence is accepted remains to be seen but the original sin of Berlusconi’s possible links with mafia is well documented. In the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, his holding companies received investments for billions of lire (one calculation by Marco Travaglio reckons it is the equivalent of €300m today). On a single day in April 1977, lire 8 bn. in cash (approx €30m today), according to a Bank of Italy inspector seconded to the Palermo court. Berlusconi has never explained the provenance of that and other investments. Given Dell’Utri’s mafia association ascertained by the Appeal Court and Berlusconi’s close relationship with Mangano, the suspicion must be that it was recycled mafia money. But we will almost certainly never know for sure.
There is a stark contrast between Berlusconi’s absurd claim that he would defeat mafia in three years and the dour existential hope expressed by Giovanni Falcone shortly before he was killed by Cosa Nostra “mafia is a human expression and like all human activities it has a beginning and will have an end”. Berlusconi’s claims would be comic if it were not for the dark side of his own and his close associates’ links with mafia. This is not schizophrenia – it is a desperate and tardy attempt to bury a past which will not go away.