Italy’s economic crises have worsened, amid widespread distrust of the banking system, to the extent that the Mafia has become the country’s biggest ‘bank’ and spreading its tentacles across the economy.
According to a report issued by anti-crime group SOS Impresa, extortionate lending by criminal groups has reached the levels of a “national emergency”, adding that the annual turnover generated by organised criminal groups amount to about ?140 billion ($177.51 billion) with profits to the tune of over ?100 billion ($126.79 billion).
“With 65 billion euros in liquidity, the Mafia is Italy’s number one bank,” SOS Impresa, a group set up in Palermo a decade ago to oppose extortion rackets against small business, said in a statement.
Analysts and crime watchdogs believe organised criminal groups such as the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, the Naples Camorra or the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta maintain a tight grip on the Italian economy and generate profits that are the size of 7% of country’s GDP.
The anti-crime group report revealed that criminal groups are flourishing on activities such as arms smuggling, drug trafficking, gambling, prostitution and racketeering with extortionate lending becoming the most favoured crime method to gain money and power.
“The classic neighbourhood or street loan shark is on the way out, giving way to organised loan-sharking that is well connected with professional circles and operates with the connivance of high-level professionals,” the report said.
The findings suggested that around 200,000 businesses have links with extortionate lenders resulting in tens of thousands of job losses and revenue losses of millions of euros.
Immaculate, pinstripes wearing bankers, lawyers and accountants have replaced the old style, rugged gangsters, handing out cash in bars and pool halls, the report disclosed.
“This is extortion with a clean face,” it added. “Through their professions, they know the mechanisms of the legal credit market and they often know the financial position of their victims perfectly.”
Many small businesses that are struggling from the economic crisis are increasingly turning to the mafia to get hold of credit and safeguard their existence, the findings noted.
Typical clients of extortionate lending are struggling small or medium enterprise businessmen and? middle-aged shopkeepers who are struggling to get bank loans and willing to try anything to avoid bankruptcy, it added.
“They are usually people in traditional retail sectors like food, greengrocers, clothes or shoe shops, florists or furniture shops. These are the categories which, more than any other, are paying the price of the (economic) crisis,” it said.
According to a separate report this week from small business association CNA, 56 percent of companies had seen banks tighten their lending requirements in the past three months.
Critics of the Italian banking system believe bankers are making it hard for people to obtain loans through legal means whereas credit is being made easily available via grey sources.