Official: Mafia moves into Italy quake area

Associated Press / April 17, 2009
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ROME - Organized crime syndicates have moved into the central Italian region devastated by a quake this month and are looking to profit from the reconstruction of the area, the head of Parliament's anti-Mafia commission said.

Speaking to an Italian magazine, Giuseppe Pisanu called for a strong task force to guard against the risk of Mafia-related rebuilding corruption.

The country's top anti-Mafia prosecutor said yesterday that he was putting together a group of experts to help local authorities deal with any such infiltration.

The April 6 quake leveled or heavily damaged entire blocks in the central Italian city of L'Aquila and the surrounding Abruzzo region.

Some government officials have estimated that $16 billion will be needed for reconstruction.

Pisanu said that organized crime, "when it's not killing people, is more dangerous than it seems because it means that it is focused on big business." He offered the comments in an interview with news weekly Panorama, due out today. An advance copy was issued yesterday.

Pisanu said all three main syndicates - the Sicilian Mafia, or Cosa Nostra; the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta, and the Naples-based Camorra - have moved into the region, which traditionally is not a stronghold of the mob.

They "are certainly aiming at the reconstruction," the conservative senator and former interior minister told the magazine. "We must protect public investment with an iron-strong anti-Mafia task force."

Landing construction contracts and infiltrating big public projects has long been one of the mob's most lucrative activities, often obtained with the help of politicians and businessmen.

After the 1980 quake in the Naples area, mobsters infiltrated many construction projects, investigators have said.

Top anti-Mafia prosecutor Piero Grasso said this month that Italy should learn from that experience and monitor the spending of billions of euros.

He drew angry reactions from some Abruzzo officials who said that his warning was an exaggeration.

Yesterday, Grasso urged authorities to remain vigilant against any Mafia infiltration, though he said it was too soon to sound any specific alarm since actual reconstruction had not begun.

He said that this is also a way to ensure that future buildings are up to antiseismic code and prevent the shoddy construction that has been blamed for many of the 294 deaths in the temblor.

Grasso said he is looking to create a group of magistrates from his Rome office who will be working with local officials.