Billion dollar mafia bust in Italy

Player utilities

This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. There was a major bust of the mafia today. Police and Italy say they have seized assets worth almost one billion dollars. Those assets include nearly one thousand properties, hundreds of bank accounts and number of companies. They were all connected to the Camorra, that's a branch of the Neapolitan mafia. Several people suspected of being members of the crime syndicate were arrested. The BBC's Duncan Kennedy is in Rome. Duncan, this is a very large catch but apparently the police have been very busy in the past year seizing mafia assets.

Duncan Kennedy: This was a big one, eight hundred and fifty million dollars to be exact, nine hundred properties, twenty-three companies and two hundred bank accounts, so, a huge asset seizing operation, seven arrests as well. All against a group that I haven't heard of before, a gang called the Mallardos, which is an off shoot of the Camorra, which as you say is the one based in Naples. A huge assets seizing operation, the police say their involvement was in things like betting shops and also the production and distribution of coffee and pharmaceutical products.

Werman: Well, as you said, there have been many seizures in the past year and made partly possible by Prime Minister Berlusconi, explain that?

Kennedy: In January 2010, Silvio Berlusconi made this a policy priority to go after the assets of the mafia. Not just in terms of police operations as they had done in the past, where they just picked up members after intelligence covering operations. This was an idea to beat them and he uses that word 'to beat them at their own game, where it hurts most, their financial assets'. And he set up an organization, a national agency to do just this. And Mr. Berlusconi's old interior minister likes to quote the figure of ten billion dollars in assets seized since Mr. Berlusconi came to power in 2008, so they do believe they are making inroads into those places where it does hurt - their pockets.

Werman: Now what will the government do with all these assets?

Kennedy: A lot of them are being sold off, auctioned off and there is some controversy about that. Whether the state should make money from the mafia? But Mr. Berlusconi being a billionaire business man himself, who knows a thing or two about business and the making of money, says this can be justified because the money is then eventually ploughed back into the government. Coffers to go to the hospitals, schools and roads, so he's saying, 'why shouldn't the state take money from this, because the mafia extort the people in the first place', and he says the money should end up back in Italian tax-payers' pockets.

Werman: In another mafia asset seizure last month, apparently a couple of soccer teams were part of the seized loots. How will the government sell off soccer teams?

Kennedy: This was a strange one, it happened last month and they reckon about five hundred million dollars worth of assets on this one. This time it was the gang called the 'Ndrangheta, which operates out of the Calabria region of Southern Italy. Yes, it involved two soccer clubs, two fourth-division sides, not particularly well known clubs, but the mafia was using them apparently to garn a support amongst the regions local people. The mafia would provide facilities, provide soccer in an area, which otherwise wouldn't have very many entertainment facilities. So it's a kind of PR exercise on the part of the mafia. All those assets the mafia makes its money from and spends its money on, is what the police and the authorities are now targeting.

Werman: The BBC's Duncan Kennedy in Rome. Good to speak. Thank you.

Kennedy: Thank you.