The existence of the Italian Mafia is common knowledge but it is perhaps a less known fact that nowadays it operates in an international scale. But, why and how it has expanded outside Italy? Do the other countries and the common people know that it operates in their states as well? And what could be done to stop this phenomena?
First of all it must be said the Italian Mafia is not a united gang but it is composed by several groups originated from different regions of Italy: the most famous one is called Cosa Nostra and it has the main operations in Sicily; then there is the Camorra from Campania and the ‘ndrangheta in Calabria. Even though there are other gangs in Italy, these are undoubtedly the most powerful and biggest ones; they are all situated in the Southern regions and that makes people from the rest of Italy believe that the Mafia is a problem only of the South, whereas the rest of the world considers it an Italian phenomena.
They are all wrong. Nowadays, the Italian gangs operate on a national scale in places like Milan and Bologna, as well as on an international level in countries like Germany, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Romania, United States, Canada and even as far away as Australia. However, these states do not think that Mafia act in their territories, albeit there is proof that clearly show examples of Mafia’s activities outside Italy. According to Antonio De Bernardo, prosecutor in Reggio Calabria, “the crime of Mafia membership does not exist anywhere in the World except Italy, but the Mafia is everywhere”.
There are several reasons that could explain this expansion. One of these is because of the large Italian emigration, that since the late 19th century brought millions of Italians to North America, Central and Western Europe as well as to Australia. While the majority of them succeeded in integrating into their new societies, some were already affiliated with Mafia gangs, helping in this way to build an international crime network, especially in Europe. Another explanation is the strengthening in Italy of the system aimed to fight criminal organizations, leading in turn to the mobsters choosing to operate instead in countries where the defence system against these kind of large, criminal organizations is less developed. Quoting Ellero, the head of Europol’s organised crime squad in the Hague, “Italy, because the authorities have had to struggle against the Mafia for decades, has the best anti-Mafia legislation and the best investigators”.
But how does the Mafia act outside Italy? The gangs have managed to adapt to the different environments mainly laundering money from illegal activities, using restaurants, companies or even finance set-ups. In Spain, for example, they operate estate companies and they also own a lot of business activities. Some Northern European ports like Rotterdam and Anversa, since they check less containers than in the Italian ones, are used as main places where all the drugs arrive and are then distributed throughout Europe. However, the most important hubs for the Italian Mafia, as well as for other criminal organizations, are London and New York. In these major financial cities the money from illegal activities is laundered and re-used in legal businesses. According to data gathered by non-political associations, in the United Kingdom, 57 billions British pounds are laundered every year. This process involves offshore islands belonging to the British crown like the Cayman Islands, used as a tax haven where huge amounts of capital passes through, and eventually ends up in the prestigious banks of the City of London. This method is considered crucial since the real problem for every criminal organization is not to earning money but rather enabling it to flow into legal businesses.
However, most of the states mentioned above do not recognize the fact that international gangs operate in their countries, and Italy is putting pressure on European institutions to recognize this threat and thus augmenting the collaboration between different European police agencies, as well as changing the legal system in order to make arrests easier. Quoting Claudio Fava, Vice President of the Italian commission Anti Mafia that spoke in Bruxelles, “it should be a priority for the EU, since from years the criminal organizations operate in an international scale and without common laws for every country is not possible to face them properly”.
To conclude, it seems that the best way to dismantle these international organizations as well as the other ones is a better and bigger collaboration among the all countries affected by this phenomena. Withdrawing, and focusing only on crimes within national borders, only simplifies the Mafia’s business, since they do not recognize any borders and they act on an international scale.