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No witness : no antimafia fight!

Social redistribution of confiscated mafia assets in Italy

Social redistribution of confiscated mafia assets in Italy:
from mafia informal to civil formali

Niccolò Mignemiii and Fabrice Rizzoliiii

Original title: “La redistribution à des fins sociales des biens confisqués aux mafias en Italie:
de l’informel mafieux au formel citoyen”

Translated by Silvia Caccia [NOTE EN BAS DE PAGE: Silvia Caccia is secretary of the association Libera France. She would like to thank Michael Malloy for his thorough reading of the English version of this text.]


Media popularization of the word mafia obscures the scientific approach to a phenomenon concerning very heterogeneous realities. Indeed, in Italy, the mafia is a more complex entity than a simple “concealed octopus.” In Sicily, the mafia-type association is called Cosa Nostra; in Calabria, the ’Ndrangheta; in Campania, the Camorra; in Apulia, the Sacra Corona Unita. The four mafia-type organizations—usually termed, for the sake of simplicity, the mafia—are similar but not identical. Throughout the world, however, there exist other mafias that resemble the Italian phenomenon: the Japanese Boryokundans, the Chinese Triads, and some Russian and Albanian clans. The construction of a common paradigm of analysis is in progress, but there are few scientific resources outside of the Italian peninsula.

In Italy, the mafias constitute a vast subject of interdisciplinary study that deserves to be comprehended starting from the paradigm of complexity.iv The mafia is an organized political entity that adapts to social and economic changes. Often described as a transnational force, the mafia exerts in the first place a sovereignty on a given territory. Starting from this territorial seigniory,v it structures and reproduces a system of power and exploitation based on violence and illegality. It perpetuates a rooted but flexible cultural code and benefits from a relative social consensus of the population. The study of the mafia phenomenon shows that the mafia is based on a systemic violence opposed to the state, that produces covert powers and an accumulation model centered on an economy of illegal predation.

The mafia, consisting of about 24,000 affiliates,vi coordinates a vast and ramified network of connivance that forms a social body composed of the mafiosi and their accomplices. The latter do not belong to the organization, in that they did not undergo any affiliation rites, but without them the mafiosi would just form a criminal gang. The mafia power mechanism operates at the core of a system of accomplice relationships that form, for each of the three principal mafias, a network of one hundred thousand people belonging to the world of politics, enterprise, and liberal professions: “The system of relations of the mafia is made up of kinship, friendship, interests, contiguity and complicity. This network establishes itself in conditions of economic development as well as under-development. These relations build a hierarchical organized social body. Poorer social categories represent the workforce recruitment area for the mafias. The leaders of the organization are capable of signing a villainous pact with the highest levels of political and economic power, high society.”vii All this forms the above-mentioned social body, an elite that one of the greatest authorities on the mafia, the sociologist Umberto Santino, names the mafia bourgeoisie.viii The definition of the mafia phenomenon by the existence of a social body and not by a simple criminal organization is the only way to explain the perpetuity of the mafia, faced with the formal systems that followed one another: feudal/capitalistic system, democracy/authoritarianism, war and peace, etc.

In the past thirty years, by means of institutional tools, the state of right has proved very audacious in the recovering of the formal on the mafia informal. In 1982, the introduction of the crime of mafia-type association in the Criminal Code has revolutionized the struggle against this kind of associative criminality. In 1988, a reform of the Code of Criminal Procedure, reinforcing the independence of judges and the judicial police officers at their disposal, made possible the carrying of processes against mafia accomplice elites. Then, there was a change at the beginning of the 1990s. Since 1991, a national direction composed of antimafia judges successfully coordinates all inquiries. A law against the infiltration of the mafia in elected assemblies provoked the dismantling of 234 assemblies between 1991 and 2013. Since 1991, the law on collaborators of justice—wrongly called repentantsix—caused the exit of 3,000 mafiosi from their environment, and their integration into the state of right.

The accumulation of wealth is an essential component of the mafia system. As this illegally acquired capital “pollutes” the legal economic circuits, the attack on illicit possessions proves to be an indispensable tool of any antimafia strategy. From this viewpoint, the instrument that reversed the strength ratio between the mafia and the state is the practice of the confiscation of illicit possessions, since it weakens the economic power of the mafias. However, this efficacious instrument can sometimes feed the rivalry between two opposing powers—the state and the mafia—excluding the civil society. An Italian law of 1996 allows the “recycling” of confiscated assets, whereas they are usually resold or abandoned after the confiscation. This unique lawx makes it possible, for instance, the attribution of a villa—formerly belonging to a mafioso and obtained by the corruption of the formal system—to a social cooperative.

First of all, our analysis will focus on the mechanisms of confiscation and reuse of mafia assets; then, we will treat the example of the reuse of confiscated land by means of social agricultural cooperatives.

1. The reuse of confiscated assets: mechanisms and results

Before showing the examples of social redistribution of confiscated assets, we will prove the effectiveness of confiscation in the struggle against the informal.xi

1.1. The confiscation of products of the mafia informal

Confiscation consists, for the judiciary, in definitively expropriating a person of those assets acquired through a criminal infraction. In general, confiscation resting on a criminal condemnation of the owner of the assets exists in every state, but it is difficult to apply as the judge must show the link between the infraction and the property.xii In opposition to this general rule, Italy possesses a series of procedures that facilitate criminal confiscation, either because the latter is mandatory whereas it is optional elsewhere, or because the Italian judiciary does not have to find the accumulated funds, or because the confiscation of assets also applies to the accomplices of the condemned person, although under particular circumstances. Between 2010 and 2012, the different confiscation regimes allowed for the seizure of €11 billion worth of assets.xiii

In Italy, criminal confiscation is mandatory for a number of crimes, like those of mafia-type association, drug trafficking, usury, fraud against the European Union, corruption, etc. It is provided for by Article 240 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Confiscation allows the judiciary to evidence those revenues derived from an infraction; it punishes the principal author, but also the accomplices. A second type of confiscation, called by equivalence (Article 322ter of the Criminal Code), proposes the evaluation of all gains obtained through the infraction, including those for which the judiciary would not be able to find their true origin. For instance, the judiciary may prove that an agricultural entrepreneur fraudulently perceived some European funds, because he has kept stocks of produce to sell them illicitly, declaring that they had been destroyed. The judiciary may thus seize some of his real or personal property, as a yacht for instance, whose value equals that of the European subvention fraudulently perceived. If this entrepreneur is not able to prove that he bought that property by means of legally acquired money, confiscation becomes irreversible. If the property formally belongs to one of the entrepreneur’s associates, friends, or relatives—his spouse, for instance—the charge of proof is partially inverted: it is now the duty of the owner, if he or she could not ignore the situation, to prove the origin of the funds. In this case, one speaks about enlarged confiscation. Confiscation by equivalence often punishes infractions against the morality of public life (unlawful acquisition of an interest or undue advantage, misuse of public resources, etc.). This type of confiscation is particularly interesting when studying the problem of the informal, because it applies to people from whom society awaits, as a result of their social position, an exemplary attitude, in particular by the respect of the formal.

Besides this criminal tool, there exists a “pearl” at the service of the recovering of the formal on the informal: preventive antimafia confiscation. Since 1982, this administrative type of confiscation does not lie on an individual condemnation of the owner, but rather on the illicit character of the mechanisms of the acquisition of property. This property is then considered as dangerous, because it belongs to a person linked with the mafia.

As professional criminals assign their possessions to nominees (simple workers, lawyers, other associates, etc.), the idea consists in seizing the property of these accomplices, as well, even though they are not charged with any crime. Coupled with the crime of mafia-type association, this kind of confiscation proves to be particularly effective in the struggle against the mafia.

For instance, when inquiring about a clan, the judges discover a mafioso calling the Café de Paris in Rome everyday to ask the manager of one of the most beautiful cafes of the Italian capital for the total amount of receipts. The judges assign the inquiry to the Financial Guard, that discovers that the mafioso has been declared as cook helper and that the cafe belongs to a penniless barber from the Calabrian village of Cosoleto, 2,000 inhabitants including our mafioso.xiv As the inquirers demonstrate the link between the mafioso and the nominee, the latter has to prove that he legally acquired his cafe.

The prefect or the prosecutor and the judicial antimafia police, who dispose of important means of inquiry in order to determine the origin of the assets of the mafioso and his accomplices, may start the procedure. At the end of the inquiry, the administrative court—whose section dealing with conservative measures has an office in each appeals court (corte d’appello)—seizes the property (that is, it puts it under temporary administrative seizure, as a step towards confiscation). When all appeals are settled, confiscation becomes effective and the property enters public domain.

In 2004, the European Court for the Human Rights declared that the preventive judicial regime of confiscation respects the presumption of innocence, because it is a judicial procedure during which all defense rights are fully guaranteed. As it consists in an administrative decision, the person concerned may at all times provide the proof of the licit origin of the property, leading to its restitution or to compensation.

Experts agree in recognizing the effectiveness of this judicial regime against the mafias and that kind of organized crime whose characteristic is that of being an enterprise of collective predation, to which one has to respond with a collective confiscation of assets. From this point of view the Italian balance is very positive despite some difficulties. Until January 7, 2013, about 90,000 mafia assets had been seized but about 70% of them are definitely confiscated. Confiscation of assets has sensibly increased these last years. For instance, during 2007–2008, 11,871 assets were seized, whereas in 2009–2010 they were 21,039. During the five-year period 2007–2011, assets were predominantly located in Sicily (that is, 46%) , but in the past few years more and more assets have been seized in the North of Italy. Lombardy has now the fifth highest regional number of confiscations.

When confiscation is definitively decided, the National Agency for Administration and Destination of Assets Seized and Confiscated from Organized Crime, founded in 2010, decides on their attribution.xv

1.2. Public use of confiscated assets

When illegally acquired assets are confiscated, the question becomes their destination. They cannot be sold or rented out. Assets confiscated from the mafia cannot be sold at auction as would typically happen in other countries. Either the mafiosi and their accomplices would buy them back, or potential buyers would not dare to defy the power of the mafia by buying those assets. And if nobody buys them, those assets might encounter decay, showing the incapacity of the formal to give consistence to its idea of “reconquest” of the informal. To the eyes of the local community in the first place, the problem is of major interest: Is it better, for instance, that a parcel stays uncultivated or knowing that it is being exploited by a mafioso?

Three main categories of assets are subject to confiscation. Movables are mostly resold, because maintaining a yacht, for instance, is expensive. Only some vehicles are given to public forces (police, fire fighters, forest guard,xvi etc.). The two other categories are land properties and companies. Today, the agency for confiscated assets is responsible of 12,946 assets—11,238 land properties and 1,708 companies.xvii

In order to fight against the social consensus benefiting the mafioso, his property must not disappear, but has to be reused on the territory instead. It has to be a sort of compensation for a community that used to be subject to predation by the mafia. In 1995 Libera—a national network of antimafia associationsxviii—promoted a petition, signed by more than one million people. Then, in 1996, the government proposed a law whose purpose was to reintroduce in the legal system all of those confiscated assets that could have a socially useful function. Thanks to this law, each property can now be used either by institutions, or by regional authorities, or by cooperatives and associations having public interest.

Out of the 12,946 assets managed by the agency for confiscated assets, 5,859 land properties have been assigned to an entity having public interest. To this day, the agency has yet to find a destination for 3,995 assets. Only 11.4% of the 5,859 assigned assets benefit public forces (police, justice, fire fighters, harbor office). Most of the assets benefit civil society through cooperatives and associations. The majority of immovables (86.7%) are assigned to local authorities (almost all to town councils—that is, 4,961 out of 5,859) as property that cannot be disposed of freely; 33.3% of these assets are used with social purposes. For instance, 19.9% are assigned to associations and 14.7% to social centers for the rescue of disadvantaged population. On the other hand, when the property consists in a company, it can be rented out, sold or liquidated if the public interest is at stake—for instance, in order to compensate the victims of the mafia.

More than fifteen years after this law was passed, effects are visible. For instance, houses formerly belonging to some mafiosi have been transformed into police stations or courts of law. Other houses have become cultural and learning centers, centers for the care of drug addicts or housing facilities for clandestine immigrants, those to whom the mafia sells drug, or that she exploits as cheap work force. But one of the most well-known examples today is that of confiscated agricultural land, converted to organic agriculture (wine, cereals, etc.) by social cooperatives that take part in the Libera Terra project.

2. Agricultural cooperatives: a paradigm of social reuse

Agricultural land occupies a special place among confiscated assets, as shown by data. According to the report of the agency for confiscated assets, in 2011 agricultural land represented 19.7% of definitively confiscated assets (that is, 2,062 assets out of 10,438), and 16.9% of all assets managed directly by the agency.xix Proportions rise to 23.1% and 19.6% respectively if one counts land with rural buildings.

Agricultural land is central because it represents about a quarter (23.7%) of effectively assigned assets, of which 33.3% are specifically destined for social reuse and about 40% to larger social purposes (social or health services, schools, associations, etc.).xx If one admits that agricultural land is usually destined for social purposes,xxi this category alone consists of more than two thirds of reused assets (71.2%, and 83.3% if one counts rural buildings). How to explain this peculiar position?

Three practical arguments make agricultural land an “experimental outpost” for social reuse. Firstly, the exploitation of land is easier. Of course, recovering a piece of land or a vineyard after years of abandonment requires important investments, but it does not compare to the resources that are necessary for the reactivation of a company. Secondly, land produces economically measurable results and ensures the perpetuity of the project, or even its development, more quickly. Thirdly, the exploitation of confiscated land has a strong symbolic power. As far as agricultural land is concerned, the virtues and the success of social reuse are incarnated in food products destined for the market of responsible buyers, and a quality label propagates their message as largely as possible.

Confiscated agricultural land cannot be sold; it is thus transferred to local councils, which cannot dispose of it freely, and usually assigned through an administrative concession formalized by a gratuitous bailment contract lasting fifteen to thirty years. However, one must find a person that agrees on exploiting an estate formerly belonging to a mafioso, without the possibility of accessing to its full property, in addition. Here, associations and cooperatives—that is, two kinds of actors that accept the entrepreneurial mindset together with the principles of social reuse, which imply strong constraintsxxii—play a key role.

The Libera Terra project was born and continues to develop with this spirit. Nonetheless, coherence and long-term vision were not part of the project at the beginning. They actually formed through the years and through experience. Capable of reinventing itself starting from an initiative of local nature, Libera Terra has become a major example in the Italian social agriculture.xxiii The path of the project represents a paradigm that shows the opportunities and the critical aspects of social reuse.

The genesis of Libera Terra occurred in 2000–2001, when several town councils of the Alto Belice Corleonese, in the inner land of the province of Palermo, grouped into a consortium with the purpose of federating the efforts in the exploitation of the confiscated assets that the state had assigned them—153 hectares of agricultural land with some rural buildings.

Encouraged by the prefect of Palermo, they also benefited from European funds destined for the development of the Mezzogiorno, and also from the accompanying of the association Libera and of the national federations of cooperatives. Although all the experiments launched since the 1996 law on social reuse had never worked out, this time the favorable conditions were present: an economic, social and political project; a favorable legislative framework; and resources.

Some preexisting cooperatives took part in the project, but on territories conditioned by clientelism it was necessary to imagine alternative and innovative practices. The promoters then opted for the establishment of new structures constituted especially for this purpose; here, company formalization follows and serves a social object that precedes it. Selected through a competitive examination that defines the professional profiles necessary for the needs of the company, young, jobless people are formed and followed in the creation of social cooperatives of type B—an Italian status, similar to French Scop—having the professional insertion of underprivileged groups of people (handicapped people, drug addicts, convicts, etc.) as a goal.xxiv

The first one of these cooperatives is founded in November 2001 in San Giuseppe Jato, a Sicilian village known for its mafia and antimafia. It is called Placido Rizzotto, in the honor of the trade union leader from Corleone killed in 1948 because of his commitment in favor of the poorest farmers.xxv As in the other cooperatives that followed it, the reference to the memory of the victims of mafia violence shows the will to fit into a heritage of social struggles.xxvi

Having become in less than a decade a synonym of ethical, social, and economic quality, the Libera Terra label reunites today eleven cooperatives in four regions of the Mezzogiorno. A cooperative is established in Apulia, another one north of Naples, two in Calabria and seven in Sicily, of which four in the province of Palermo. All cooperatives belong to a consortium, Libera Terra Mediterraneo, that ensures the enhancement of their products (transformation, distribution, commercialization, etc.). After being the cradle of the project, the Alto Belice Corleonese, part of the Sicilian antimafia tradition,xxvii is now called to reinvent the experience by following its growth strategies.

Other texts have presented the history of Libera Terra.xxviii What we are interested in is showing the ability of this experience to give concrete form to the process of reformalization of the informal, by means of the collective. In order to show this feature, the pioneer case of the Placido Rizzotto cooperative provides us with a field of study that has to be observed from three viewpoints: work, relation with the territory, and mechanisms of wealth production.

In those areas marked by unemployment—especially among young people—and by irregular work—in particular in the agricultural sector—the cooperative is an opportunity and an “outpost” of legality on the workplace. Since the mid 2000s, the Placido Rizzotto cooperative has hired 30–40 people each year, of which about 15 associates that have a permanent contract and take care of the ordinary management, whereas agricultural work, because of its seasonality, is often assigned to a temporary external workforce. Although at the beginning the fear of working for “those of the antimafia” kept workers at distance, today many of them would like to sign up for the lists of the cooperative. According to some evidence, even farm managing mafiosi appear to be forced to sign work contracts not to lose their workforce.

The question of the relation to the territory is more complex. In rural Sicily, the landowner still maintains a very strong symbolic power. Cultivating a wild field having belonged to a mafioso means not only reaffirming the sovereignty of the state, but truly unmasking the exploitation mechanisms of criminal organizations. Replanting local varieties of vine on an abandoned vineyard, cultivating wheat on a former wild field does not consist in introducing new actors in old piling mechanisms. In fact, the predatory mindset itself is challenged. Illegally acquired resources are now at disposal of the community, again.

The cooperative not only manages its land in a different way, but furthermore it tries to “contaminate” the rest of the territory with its virtuous practices,xxix for instance opening to local producers the possibility of subscribing a chart of values giving access to the advantages of the Libera Terra label. The wealth production and distribution system is undermined by the choice of organic, as well as ethical, quality. This “will for normality” represents a break with the traditional image of the underdeveloped Mezzogiorno incapable of innovation. From this point of view, social reuse of agricultural land has first of all an exemplary value and a pedagogical function, but it shall not stay locked in a moral stance. This new articulation between public powers, “traditional” companies, and actors of the social and fair economy constitutes a lasting, advantageous option, actually profitable for the subjects directly concerned, as well as for the territory as a


Today, after the enthusiasm and the natural growth of the initial phase, confiscation as a tool for the struggle against the mafias has to face the challenges of ordinary management and the mechanisms that limit its effectiveness. A first critical point comes from the fact that the Italian State apparently manages to confiscate only 10% of the assets belonging to the mafias. The second follows from the comparison of three numbers: out of 82,654 seized assets, only 12,946 are actually at the disposal of the agency for confiscated assets, of which 5,859 have been attributed to the general interest. Only 15% of confiscated assets are really exploited and, since 2001, less than a half of these assets have found an effective destination, because of bureaucratic issues. Moreover, when a decision is made, these assets are often in ruins because they have been abandoned for long or destroyed by the mafia families that sometimes occupy them despite the decisions of the judiciary. Vast amounts of money become necessary to restore them or save them from closure, with firing as a consequence in the case of companies—whereas banks and clients, out of complicity or fear of reprisals, stop financing their activities. Finally, beyond all formal aspects, the inability of the state in the domain of confiscations risks reinforcing the power of clans. Especially where economic difficulties and unemployment are stronger, the mafioso will be able to go around and tell his fellow townspeople, “See, before there was a hotel that employed many of you, now it has gone wild, the state mocks you. I’m the power.”xxxi

However, these are criticisms due to a system that has to be improved. In fact, the Italian State starts playing its role although the resources it can invest are meager compared to the needs. It is, however, not responsible for the absence of identical legislation in other countries, not to mention the banks that claim mortgage credits that they had given “in good faith” to the mafiosi now in prison, or the fiscal paradises that feed the financial circuits by laundering the money of criminal organizations.

Indisputably, restitution of seized assets to the community through reuse allows the progressive attack on the social capital of the mafia. The symbolic, pedagogical, and cultural value of the social use of confiscated assets breaks the consensus that benefits the mafioso. As with collaborators of justice, confiscation confers the state its authority among the population, and the latter reacquires the property lost by pillage and intimidation.

As a matter of fact the mafiosi suffer from confiscation much more than from prison, because their prestige is here under discussion, on their territory and in front of their accomplices, in addition. Agricultural cooperatives are paradigmatic of the success of this strategy, since they bring back into cultivation wild fields and land conquered from the mafia’s territorial seigniory. They manage to compete in a substantial manner with the mechanisms of reproduction of the informal system, to which they oppose a new economic model based on a different relation to work, territories, quality, and the distribution of created wealth.

These “freed products” are sold shops of the organic and fair trade circuits, in supermarkets linked with the Legacoop federation, and even abroad. These products can be tasted in Paris, at the Ethicando concept store (6 rue de la Grange aux Belles, 10e arrondissement). But, in front of globalized mafias—as evidenced by the Duisburg killing in 2007, when six Calabrians were shot—in order to make these tools really effective and reinforce this project, confiscation and social reuse must now be spread out of the Italian national borders, by the adoption—in all countries of the European Union—of a text similar to the above-mentioned Italian law. In fact, a European parliamentary commission is already working on this idea.xxxii

The mafias, major actors of the integrated global economy, are a structural and systemic phenomenon of the globalization. The Italian antimafia redistribution is thus an example to follow and develop in other countries.xxxiii Some examples along this path start to show up, as in the case of Serbia, which equipped itself with the same tool in 2008—the authors are however not capable of exposing the details at the moment.

In France, the confiscation procedure has been rationalized by the creation of the AGRASC in 2011, but there is no law allowing for the social reuse of the several assets existing in the country (of which citizens have not yet been provided with evidence). However, in Argenteuil, in the Val-d’Oise province, the villa of a drug dealer could become a school of the second chance and the kebab shop that was formerly an operation of money laundering could become a learning center. In Aix-en-Provence, the cafes belonging to nominees of organized crime could become cultural laboratories, and the assets of African dictators in Paris could become shelters for migrants. Socio-cultural reuse of confiscated assets must also become a model of restoration of the state of right in the case of other forms of criminality. Money coming from the “commissions” of the Taiwan frigates could finance the management of these assets in the townships. Takieddine’s villa could become an observatory on the phenomenon of economic and financial crime. In France, like elsewhere in Europe, there is no reason that these assets should not be returned, in a visible manner, to general interest and civil society.

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iAlthough they remain the only responsible for mistakes and inaccuracies, the authors would like to thank Silvia Caccia, Anne Crenier, and Mario Vaudano for their patient and meticulous revision, as well as for their remarks, criticisms, and suggestions.

iiNiccolò Mignemi holds a PhD of the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS). In 2012, he defended his thesis in History and Civilizations, Coopérer pour travailler la terre, coopérer pour exploiter la terre: itinéraires comparés des coopératives agricoles en Italie dans la première moitié du vingtième siècle.

iiiFabrice Rizzoli holds a PhD of the Université Paris IPanthéon-Sorbonne. In 2009, he defended his thesis in Political Sciences, “Italian mafias and international relationships

ivSantino, Dalla mafia alle mafie.


viAn estimate of the Direzione d’investigazione antimafia (DIA), which has published a biannual report available on the Internet since 1993.

viiSantino, Dalla mafia alle mafie, translated in Rizzoli, Petit dictionnaire, 41.

viiiOn the formulation of the concept of mafia bourgeoisie, see: Santino, Borghesia mafiosa; Santino, Alleanza e compromesso; Rizzoli, “Pouvoirs et mafias italiennes.”

ixRizzoli, Petit dictionnaire, 52–55.

xIn fact, a similar law was passed in Serbia in 2008.

xiAbout the use of the term informal in this text, see the entry Économie du crime” in Rizzoli, Petit dictionnaire, 79–80.

xiiSIRASCO, Rapport, 29.

xiiiMinistero della giustizia, Stato dei procedimenti.

xivSeized in 2009, the Café de Paris was definitely confiscated in 2011 and, thanks to the new management direction, one can now find the products of antimafia cooperatives exposed in its windows.

xvThe Agenzia nazionale per l’amministrazione e la destinazione dei beni sequestrati e confiscati alla criminalità organizzata (ANBSC) was created by the decree of February 4, 2010, then law of March 31, 2010, n. 50.

xviAn institution that accomplishes great criminal inquiries against the “ecomafias,” those activities that alter the environment.

xviiSee ANBSC, “Situazione dei beni.”

xviiiThe complete name is Libera: Associazioni, nomi e numeri contro le mafie, see the official website

xixThat is, 569 assets out of 3,364. See ANBSC, 2a Relazione, 52.

xxIbid., 51.

xxiAscione and Scornaienghi, “Agricoltura legale.”

xxiiOn these issues see: Mosca and Villani, “Impresa sociale”; Baldascino and Mosca, “Gestione dei beni confiscati.”

xxiiiOn social agriculture in Italy see: Di Iacovo, Agricoltura sociale; Sabbatini, Agricoltura non profit; Fazzi, “Social Co-Operatives.”

xxivOn Italian social cooperatives see: Borzaga, “Coopératives sociales”; Borzaga, “Évolution récente”; Zandonai, “Coopération sociale.”

xxvSee Paternostro, Stelle in un pugno, but also the testimony of Placido Rizzotto’s father in Dolci, Spreco.

xxviLa Torre, Comunisti e movimento contadino; Paternostro, Antimafia sconosciuta.

xxviiSantino, Storia del movimento antimafia.

xxviiiMignemi, “Coopératives et réutilisation sociale.”

xxixFazzi, “Social Co-Operatives,” 134.

xxxFondazione Libera Informazione, Beni confiscati.

xxxiRizzoli, Petit dictionnaire, 194.

xxxiiIt is the CRIM (Organised Crime, Corruption and Money Laundering ) Special Committee of the European Parliament.

xxxiiiRizzoli, “Armes à l’italienne.”

The hold of the mafia on the world of politics

Italy : The hold of the mafia on the world of politics

in Grande Europe No. 27, December 2010

Original title: “Italie : L’Emprise de la Mafia sur le Monde Politique”

Fabrice Rizzoli, PHD graduate Italian mafias and international relationships

Translated from French by Silvia Caccia

By exercising “sovereignty” in a given area, the mafias (Cosa Nostra in Sicily, the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria, the Camorra in Campania, and the Sacra Corona Unita in Apulia) reign in Italy through a system based on violence [Rizzoli, 2010]. With a deeply rooted but flexible cultural code, they benefit from a relative consensus in the population thanks to an extensive network of complicity, a true criminal social body called “mafia bourgeoisie” [Santino, 1997] where relations with politicians play a major role. Historically, the mafias can be considered as an instrument of governance of the Italian State. As long as they participated in the struggle against communist influence within the framework of the American strategy of containment, the mafias benefited from a great level of impunity [Rizzoli, 2009]. With the end of the Cold War, the relations between politics and mafias entered a new era. Cornered by the judiciary, the Sicilian mafia for its part had to choose a terrorist strategy to find new political alliances.

For a long time the relationship between mafias and political circles was missing from public debate, due to a lack of evidence and investigation. A first breach was opened in 1975 by the court in Turin on the occasion of a defamation trial. In one of his books, the progressive Sicilian writer, also a deputy, Michele Pantaleone traced the career of Giovanni Gioia, several times minister and also secretary of the branch of the Christian Democratic Party in Palermo during 25 years, and highlighted this high representative’s acquaintances with the mafia [Pantaleone, 1966]. Summoned to appear before the court to justify his allegations, M. Pantaleone gave proof of a classified document by the Parliamentary Commission for the Inquiry into the Mafia, of which he had been a member. The report was from Colonel Dalla Chiesa, who confirmed at the hearing that he was indeed the author. The judges acquitted the writer M. Pantaleone and gave up prosecuting his publishing house: for the first time, a court in the Italian Republic recognized that one of its ministers was mafioso [Dalla Chiesa, 1984]. Nearly twenty years later, on October 15, 2004, the Supreme Court of Cassation acquitted the former President of the Council of Ministers, Giulio Andreotti, charged with mafia association, after recognizing that the politician, the most powerful of the First Republic (1948-1992), had been an accomplice of Cosa Nostra before 1980. The facts being statute barred, this high representative, who held three times the position of President of the Council,1 escaped justice, but this episode has nevertheless provided those who study the mafia phenomenon with evidence of long-lasting collusion.

These two examples illustrate the links between politics and mafia. For, if the latter interferes in political affairs, on the other hand the political world can also act as the mafia. This is known as “mafia-like production of politics” [Santino, 1994].

The influence of the mafia on power

The mafia influences political life by resorting to violence (established as a system) and by weighing on elections. As it fails to recognize the monopoly of legitimate violence of the State, the clan refuses to
rely on the judiciary to solve its internal conflicts, and defends its own system of values. Far from obeying any drive, the mafiosi use violence as a resource and a mode of communication with their affiliates and the citizens. The use of violence allows a relatively small number (estimated to be 24,000) of “soldiers” to control the population in a panoptic way [Foucault, 1975]. Because they possess in addition to their own norms a coercive power and a parallel administrative apparatus, the mafiosi are able to impose their laws. This system of “planned violence” [Chinnici, 1989] creates a network of invisible occupation, leaning on the territories of the different mafia families [Claval, 1978]. Through this domination, the mafia society becomes partially institutionalized and largely influences the activity of local authorities. The smaller the geographical scale, the stronger the power of the mafia. Thus, since 1991 the State has disbanded 172 town councils infiltrated by the mafia.

The interference of mafia organizations in electoral competitions is a proven fact, as repeatedly demonstrated by the “confessions” of the collaborators of justice, still erroneously called “repentants”. The offer of “cooperation” can come from both sides. Thus, when elections approach, mafia families offer financial support for the political campaign of some candidates or electoral support, in exchange for the assignment of markets subject to invitations to tender.

In 1994 the collaborator of justice Salvatore Annacondia explained to the chairman of the parliamentary antimafia commission that he could in this way control up to 60,000 votes in Apulia: “[…] In this constituency, out of ten people who voted we could find nine who had followed the instructions. Then it was easy to identify the one who had not obeyed.” And as the president asked: “And was he punished?” S. Annacondia replied: “Eh! What a question!”2

The impact of voting instructions given by the mafia has been the object of a case study. In the parliamentary elections of June 14, 1987, the mafia enjoined the traditional voters of the Christian Democracy to vote for the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) and the Radical Party. These two groups offered indeed a political program that substantially strengthened the rights of the defense, with the risk of excessively reducing the power of the judge. In the areas of Palermo with high mafia density, the number of votes obtained by the PSI reached 10% against a previous average of 6.6% at municipality scale. In the district of Ciaculli, stronghold of the Greco clan, the result of this party went from 5.6% to 23.47%, well beyond the result obtained by the same party at national level. Since then, the results of no other ballot have been studied, we are therefore reduced to speculation. At the parliamentary elections of 2001, however, the center-right won all the constituencies in Sicily and many were the politicians belonging to this coalition who have subsequently been convicted of complicity with the mafia (see below). Along with this interference of the mafia in the governance, elected officials and political leaders in turn participate in mafia-like activities.

Politics and mafia-like policies

The world of politics sometimes helps to perpetuate the mafia phenomenon by guaranteeing a certain degree of impunity to its authors. However, unlike what was observed during the years of the
Cold War (1948-1992), impunity has become relative at the judicial level, as evidenced by the imprisonment of a large number of mafiosi. On the other hand, in Palermo, 80% of the companies
and shops are still paying the
pizzo (the mafia tax). By not efficiently fighting against the practice of racketeering, public powers legitimize de facto, and unwillingly, this source of income for the mafias.

Every year the EURISPES (European Institute for Political, Economical, and Social Studies) presents a geo-economical state of the Italian mafias. In 2008 they stored up 130 billion Euros, which represent 10% of the brought-in wealth in Italy. The main source of illegal accumulation of capital is drug trafficking (59 billion Euros). “Ecomafias” [Muti, 2005], whose criminal activities (cement and waste cycles, illegal trade of works of art and animals) undermine the environment, yield 16 billion Euros, whereas the illegal trade of weapons and other kinds of illegal trade yield 5.8 billion. Racketeering, with an annual turnover of 9 billion Euros, and usury, 15 billion Euros, let the mafia earn some 250 million Euros a day.

Some brave politicians pay with their lives their determination to denounce these crimes. In 2008 and 2009 two mayors and a town councilor were murdered for resisting to the Neapolitan Camorra. However, the most significant murder was that of the vice-president of the Regional Assembly of Calabria, Francesco Fortugno, killed in October 2005 for trying to put an end to the arrangements between mafia and politics in the health sector.

By contrast, the president of the Region of Sicily, Salvatore Cuffaro, and Senator Marcello Dell’Utri (right-hand man of Silvio Berlusconi and founder of the Forza Italia party) were sentenced on appeal in 2010 for complicity with a mafia association. Moreover, it is not uncommon that members or close associates of the government engage in complaisant statements with regard to the mafia. The most emblematic came from the former Minister of Infrastructure and Transport, Pietro Lunardi, who on August 22, 2001 acknowledged on the news of Canale 5: “Mafia and Camorra have always existed and will always exist: unfortunately, they are there and we must live with this reality; […] these Camorra problems, everyone will solve them as he wishes.”3 Pronounced in the aftermath of the electoral victory of the center-right coalition (May 13, 2001), these words in the mouth of the person in charge of all public invitations to tender are to say the least ambiguous. Recently, it was the turn of the Secretary of State for the Application of the governmental program of the team in power, Daniela Santanchè, to declare: “We must limit phone-tapping because the mafiosi as well are entitled to a private life.”4 Also, these words come along with certain political decisions that do not help in the fight against the mafia phenomenon. For instance, on January 31, 2002 the government refused to grant the association Libera the authorization to teach in schools what should be legality face to the reality of the mafia phenomenon.5 The high number of conflicts of interests is also a good example of behaviors that are incompatible with the antimafia fight. It is common for some lawyers, also center-right-wing deputies, to conduct the defense of the mafiosi.6 The judges who pursue conniving politicians are accused of “doing politics,” to “engage in a civil war”7 or else to be “serving the communists.”8 While 2,000 mafia homicides were committed in the 1990s, at the same time9 the government removes police escorts to some judges in a country where 24 judges were murdered between 1971 and 1992.

The different governments led by S. Berlusconi have sponsored several laws and regulations not very compatible with the antimafia fight. During his mandate, one can count three amnesty laws allowing the repatriation of illegally exported capital (2001, 2003 and 2009); several regulations of unauthorized construction favoring the “ecomafias”; the reduction of the limitation period for the offense of false statement in account, reduced from fifteen years to seven for companies listed on the Stock Exchange and to four for other companies (law No. 366 passed by the Parliament on October 3, 2001); the non-ratification of the treaty with Switzerland aiming to improve cooperation in the fight against crime (law No. 367 of October 5, 2001); the promulgation of laws complicating the collection of evidence by investigating judges; the refusal to vote the extension of the European arrest warrant for crimes concerning corruption, fraud and money laundering;10 the ban on publishing phone-taps contents in the media (the so-called gag law) in June 2010. This list is to say the least eloquent when one also considers the fact, for example, that at regional level the vice-president of the Regional Assembly and delegate to Town and Country Planning in Sicily, Bartolo Pellegrino, took part in 2002 in a meeting with the head of the mafia family of Monreale. The politician went so far as to give legal advice to allow his interlocutor to recover some property seized by the judiciary.

In October 2008, the press revealed that a “repentant” had stated, for the first time, the name of the Italian media tycoon, Silvio Berlusconi, who was according to him the speaker of the mafiosi when they organized several bombings in 1993. These bombings stopped when the Cavaliere came to power in 1994. From that year on, the fourth parliamentary antimafia commission, which met from 1992 to 1994, published a report on relations between mafia and politics11 mentioning the tight links between the entourage of the candidate for the Presidency of the Council and the mafiosi. This document shows how mafia-like terrorism fueled the crisis of the Italian political system (1992-1994), which lead to the establishment of the Second Republic. If the mafia is after all in its role when it uses violence, on the other hand one can wonder about the motivations of conniving politicians. Indeed, while the mafia cannot exist without the connivance of politicians, politics without mafia is possible.

The antimafia fight

Italy is often considered as a laboratory for political sciences, because even if the Italian mafias are secret criminal associations the available sources for researchers are legion. Now, transparency and antimafia fight make Italy a case in point in Europe. Transparency arises from the fact that the judiciary in this country is independent, in that it is governed by the constitutional principle of the obligation of the criminal action (the prosecutor receiving a complaint is required to initiate an inquiry, regardless of the case) and from the fact that careers of the staff of the judiciary as well as case management depend on the Superior Council of Magistracy, a principle introduced by the members of the Constituent Assembly of 1946-1948.12

Regarding the antimafia fight, it goes back to 1962, when the first parliamentary antimafia commission meets, whose antimafia report, although shy, paved the way for Members of Parliament.13 After many years of practice, a useful legislative device could be developed despite the mafia violence that hit the ruling elites of the Italian Republic. In 1982, the head of the Sicilian mafia, responsible for the assassination of the Deputy and regional Secretary of the Italian Communist Party Pio La Torre and of the General and Prefect of Palermo Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, makes a huge strategic mistake. On September 3, 1982, the Members of Parliament enact a law on the crime of mafia-like association [Rizzoli, 2010] and on the seizure and confiscation of mafia property (No. 646), and establish a high commission for the antimafia fight. In the early 1990s, in a geopolitical context marked by the end of the bipolar world, the deputies introduce strict clauses in various areas: the prison system is hardened (article 41 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, laws No. 203 of July 12, 1991, and No. 185 of August 7, 1992) in order to cut the mafioso from his territory as much as possible (as it should also respect human rights) and thus to weaken his power; invitations to tender are subject to strengthened control (law ​​of May 13, 1991, No. 152); the dismantling of an elected assembly because of mafia infiltration is made easier (law of July 22, 1991, No. 221); the resort to collaborators of justice called “repentants” is established (law of March 15, 1991, No. 197). This last legislative device, crucial for the antimafia fight, provides information on these criminal organizations and gives back to the legally constituted State all of its place. To this day, thanks to this law, at least 3,000 mafiosi have thus left the world of crime. Realizing the extent of the threat, the Sicilian mafia decided then to use the ultimate stage of planned violence, terrorism, committing from 1992 to 1993 some six murderous attacks.

Determined not to be overawed, the center-left majority (1996-2001) leads an efficient economic policy that manages to bring the unemployment rate below 20% in the South of the country. During this period, the government also strongly supported the civil society, which fully involved in the antimafia fight. As a results from a national petition promoted by Libera, the largest association for antimafia fight, the government passed a law14 that plans to reintroduce in the legal system all confiscated property likely to have a socially useful function, such a text being unique in the world. While after the seizure properties are usually sold or abandoned, this law makes it possible to recycle them for the benefit of the population: some houses that previously belonged to the mafiosi are for example transformed into cultural centers, care facilities for drug addicts, or accommodation places for illegal immigrants, the very same people to whom the mafia sells drugs or that are exploited in its farms. The latter can also be dismantled to make way for cooperatives, to the great displeasure – it goes without saying – of the mafiosi.

Drawing on the laws relating to the seizure and confiscation of illicit property, the government takes great care to undermine the economic power of the mafiosi. Thus, according to estimates by the Confcommercio,15 240 billion lire (equivalent to 124,8 million Euros) were seized from the mafias and were returned to the circuit of the legal economy during the mandate of Romano Prodi.16

The implementation of this law has proved so efficient that the objective is now to vote in all European Union member countries a similar text, as advocated by the European Commissioner to Justice, Jacques Barrot. Indeed, since the killing of August 15, 2007 in Duisburg (Land of North-Rhine-Westphalia, in Germany) when six Calabrians were murdered by the ‘Ndrangheta,17 Europe has really become aware that the mafia is not just an Italian problem.

Works Cited

Antimafia Investigation Department publishes an annual report (since 1993), available on the Internet.

Chinnici, Giorgio, and Umberto Santino. La Violenza Programmata: Omicidi e Guerre di Mafia a Palermo dagli Anni ’60 ad Oggi. Milan: F. Angeli, 1989.

Claval, Paul. Espace et Pouvoir. Paris: PUF, 1978.

Dalla Chiesa, Nando. Delitto Imperfetto. Milan: Mondadori, 1984.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage, 1995.

Fourth Parliamentary Antimafia Commission of the 11th Legislature. “Relazione sui rapporti tra mafia e politica (reporting member: Violante).” Mafie e Antimafia: Rapporto ‘96. Ed. Luciano Violante. Rome: Laterza, 1996.

Maccaglia, Fabrizio. “Italie: Anciennes et Nouvelles Mafias.” Questions Internationales 26, July-Aug. 2007.

Muti, Giuseppe. “La Criminalità Ambientale, Analisi Geoeconomica e Geopolitica Territoriale nella Regione Europea.” PhD thesis. U. de la Sorbonne – U. La Sapienza, 2005.

Pantaleone, Michele. Antimafia Occasione Mancata. Turin: Einaudi, 1996.

Rizzoli, Fabrice. “De San Luca à Duisburg, la faida et la ‘Ndrangheta.” Les mafias: analyse au quotidien d’un phénomène complexe. 28 Oct. 2011 <>.

Rizzoli, Fabrice. “L’État Italien Face au Terrorisme et à la Criminalité.” État et Terrorisme: Actes du Colloque du 12 Janvier 2002, Paris. Ed. Démocraties. Paris: Lavauzelle, 2002.

Rizzoli, Fabrice. “L’Italie, Ses Déchets, Son Béton, Ses Mafias.” Libération 16 July 2008.

Rizzoli, Fabrice. “Les mafias et la Fin du Monde Bipolaire: Relations Politico-Mafieuses et Activités Criminelles à l’Épreuve des Relations Internationales.” PhD thesis. U. Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne), 2009.

Rizzoli, Fabrice. “Pouvoirs et Mafias Italiennes: Contrôle du Territoire Contre État de Droit.” Pouvoirs 132, January 2010.


Santino, Umberto. “Per una Storia Sociale della Mafia.” Cited in: Augusto Cavadi. A Scuola di Antimafia Palermo: Centro Impastato, 1994.

Santino, Umberto. L’Alleanza e il Compromesso: Mafia e Politica dai Tempi di Lima e d’Andreotti ai Nostri Giorni. Soveria Manelli: Rubbettino, 1997.

Violante, Luciano. Il Ciclo Mafioso. Rome: Laterza, 2004.

1 Giulio Andreotti was chief of the government from February 1972 to June 1973, from July 1976 to March 1979 and from July 1989 to April 1992.

2 Antimafia parliamentary commission, 11th Legislature, hearing of Salvatore Annacondia, cited by Luciano Violante, Mafie e Antimafia (Rome: Laterza, 1996) 163.

3 Francesco Viviano and Alessandra Ziniti, “‘Convivere con la mafia’ – Lunardi nella bufera,” La Repubblica, 22 Aug. 2001.

4 “Santanché difende privacy dei boss – Pd e Idv: ‘Governo prenda le distanze,’” La Repubblica, 18 May 2010, 28 Oct. 2011 <>.

5 Decree of January 10, 2002: Luciano Violante, Il Ciclo Mafioso (Rome: Laterza, 2004) 38.

6 See in particular the case of the under-secretary of the Ministry of Interior, debated in the Chamber of Deputies, shorthand proceedings, session No. 15, 12 July 2001, 81.

7 Comments of the President of the Council, cited by the weekly magazine Panorama on November 8, 2001 and repeated during a press conference in Granada in front of the Spanish Prime Minister José Maria Aznar on November 13, 2001, Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (Ansa), November 13, 2001.

8 This accusation has been uttered several times by the President of the Council in person. For the last one, see: “Berlusconi a sorpresa a Ballarò – ‘Mills? I giudici sono comunisti,’” La Repubblica, 27 Oct. 2009, 28 Oct. 2011 <>.

9 Between 1992 and 1993, annual report of the Minister of the Interior to the Parliament: Violante 17.

10 On December 4, 2001, in Brussels, the representatives of the governments of the European Union met in order to decide on the list of crimes subjects to a European arrest warrant. Member States agree on a list of 32 crimes, but Italy suggests only seven crimes, among which corruption, fraud and money laundering are not included. Totally isolated on the European stage, Italy ends up by coming around to this measure after the European summit of Laeken on December 14-15, 2001: La Repubblica 15 Dec. 2001.

11 Fourth antimafia parliamentary commission of the 11th legislature, Report on the relations between mafia and politics (by Luciano Violante), approved on April 6, 1993.

12 Two thirds of the Superior Council of Magistracy are composed of judges elected by their peers and the Bench really controls the judicial police.

13 Act of Parliament, Chamber of Deputies, 5th legislature, Parliamentary commission for the inquiry on the mafia phenomenon in Sicily, final report (by L. Carraro), Rome 1976, 113.

14 Passed in 1995 (No. 575/95) and reinforced in 1996 (No. 109/96).

15 The Federation of Italian Traders issues yearly statistics on the Italian economy.

16 This amount of money corresponds to some 865 real-estate properties. Only 6 to 7% of the patrimony of the mafia could be seized, and only about 3% was confiscated and allocated for social purposes: Violante 38.

17 Fabrice Rizzoli, “De San Luca à Duisburg, la faida et la ‘Ndrangheta,” Les Mafias: analyse au quotidien d’un phénomène complexe, 28 Oct. 2011 <>.




Fabrice Rizzoli phd graduate Italian mafias and international relationships

translation of this article in french politi and constitutional revew

In Italy, the mafia does not exist. The Sicilian mafia-like organization is called Cosa Nostra, in Calabria it is called the ‘Ndrangheta, in Campania, the Camorra, and in Apulia, the Sacra Corona Unita. The four mafia-like organizations, which are generically referred to as the mafia for the sake of simplicity, look alike without being identical. The reader can visualize their historical areas of influence in the following map.

Unlike the Chinese or the Russian phenomena, the Italian mafias are scientifically known, because Italy is a democracy (police, public freedom, independent magistracy, press freedom, pluralism of political parties, university researches, etc.), a political system enabling the production of sources. From 1962 to January 2006 the Parliamentary Commission for the Inquiry into the Mafia was regularly in session and the opposition could present its own report, called “the report of the minority”. Although a verdict on the culpability or innocence of a person under investigation does not give an account of the intensity of the connections between the mafiosi and the ruling class, it is possible to analyze the deeply motivated decisions of the legal system on the other side of the Alps. More recently, geopolitics – the study of the interaction between the territory and the actors on the political stage, their objectives and their strategies – has proven effective for overcoming the interdisciplinarity of the subject “mafia”. By the reappropriation of the instrument of inquiry, geopolitics enables to link seemingly isolated facts together, to rationally interpret them to gain a complete picture between politics, business and criminal associations. Source analysis shows that the history of Italian mafia-like organizations is a history of power management.

The mafia is a political actor that exerts an authority by means of violence. The power of the mafia is based on the accumulation of capitals and their exploitation in a business-like manner. The mafia benefits from social consensus and possesses a political dimension that makes it indispensable for part of the ruling class. The Italian State is one of the best equipped against mafia-like powers.


A political entity rival to the State, which competes with it for the legal use of violence, the mafia shows its power by means of intimidation. The mafia uses systematic violence to obtain a social network. Systematic violence, sparingly used by a small number of criminals, provides them with a comprehensive control of the populations. Indeed, thanks to violence, which breaks up solidarities and isolates individuals, the mafioso is at the center of society.

Mafia-like violence, also called “planned violence”, founds a parallel legal order. Within the clan, violence awards prestige. Mafia-like execution is a decision of justice used symbolically, as a language. In 1993 a bomb in a church means that the Sicilian mafia holds a grudge against the pope for taking a stand against it. On August 15, 2007, in Duisburg, the clan Nirta-Strangio orders the killing of seven members of a rival family on the day of the Assumption of Mary, as a response to the murder of Maria Strangio on December 25, 2005. When a citizen does not respect the rules imposed by the mafia, they can be murdered even years after their default, in order to make mafia-like law everlasting and more powerful than that of the legally constituted State. Thus, in Calabria, a clan killed a farmer eight years after he refused to sell a piece of land. The mafia eliminates in particular those people that have eluded the Italian law. In a symbolical manner, it takes away from the State its prerogative “justice”. For instance, in September 2008, in a small town near Reggio Calabria, two drivers argue over a parking spot. One of them pulls out a gun and kills the other driver, who is the son-in-law of the local mafia boss. Understanding the extent of his gesture, the murderer runs away. The relatives of the victim arrive on the scene of the accident and try in vain to transport the boss’s son-in-law to the hospital. They leave the corpse in front of the cemetery to gain time against the Italian law. The Calabrese mafia family must indeed apply “planned violence”. The person who committed the crime and who has not turned himself to the Italian law is found murdered with a bullet in the back of his head in Rome twenty-four hours later. The Calabrese clan has just relegated the Italian State to an entity inferior to the mafia: a mafia capable of dealing out a lightning justice.

Violence is equally used to prove the ability to govern the territory. To carry out the checkering of the terrain, the mafias lean on a military power. The four mafias, an army without a uniform, have 24,000 armed soldiers who control the territory of the mafia. In Naples, since the earthquake of 1980, the Camorra has taken control of some areas. The clans seized some reconstructed buildings to accommodate some families without the authorization of the town council. Families feel indebted to the camorrists and protect them in their escape. These “forts” of the Camorra are unique in Europe. Sicily is divided into provinces, which are divided into mandamento, cantons that group together at least three mafia families. In Calabria, the territorial unit is the locale. The cities of Palermo, Naples, and Reggio Calabria are divided into areas as shown in the following map.

Using this type of criminal political subdivisions, the Italian mafias “levy taxes” by systematically extorting money from economic businesses. In Palermo and in Reggio Calabria, 80% of all storekeepers pay the pizzo, the “tax” imposed by the mafia. Racketeering is a demonstration of power and an opportunity to accumulate capitals.


Every year, the EURISPES (European Institute for Political, Economical, and Social Studies) presents a geo-economical state of the Italian mafias. In 2008, they stored up 130 billion Euros, which represent 10% of the brought-in wealth in Italy. The main source of illegal accumulation of capital is drug trafficking (59 billion Euros). “Ecomafias”, the criminal activities that undermine the environment (cement and waste cycles, illegal trade of works of art and animals), yield 16 billion Euros, whereas the illegal trade of weapons and other kinds of illegal trade yield 5.8 billion. Racketeering, with a turnover of 9 billion, and usury, 15 billion Euros, let the mafia earn 250 million Euros a day.

Since the beginning of the economic crisis, the great amount of available funds has allowed the mafias to win contracts and to invest in the legal economy. According to the Association of Italian Traders, clans invest in construction (37.5%), agriculture (20%), tourism (9%), shops and restaurants (7.5%), due to the strong flow of money that characterizes these activities. We will not go in depth into the topic of this type of infiltration, as it has been effectively treated by other researchers, but we will insist on the porosity of the boundary between illegal and legal activities, of which the “ecomafias” are a paradigm.

The “ecomafias” are a perfect example of the convergence of mafias, economic circles, and certain parts of the administration. The entrepreneurs and the “white collars” – real driving force behind the “ecomafia” system – address mafia-like associations to bury waste in southern Italy or in Africa. In this, the “ecomafias” are a symbol of the perverse effects of globalization and an indicator of the vitality of the mafias. These, which are not the result of economic underdevelopment, as evidenced by their deeply-rooted presence in the United States and northern Italy, are a cog in a dynamic economy (see map below).

The numerous investigations of the magistracy show for instance a strong presence of the four mafias in one of the richest provinces in Europe. The mafiosi extort money, distribute drugs and have many legal businesses.

However, on the territories of the mafia, the population lives in a state of relative underdevelopment. In the South, the unemployment rate is twice as large as in the rest of the territory (about 20%) and reaches 50% in the disadvantaged areas of Naples and Palermo. In these areas, the mafiosi cut off access to drinking water to make the population obey them. These “favors” are in fact rights that the Italian State does not guarantee: a job, a loan, a place in a hospital, etc. These rights do not exist because southern Italy lives in an “organized underdevelopment” that allows the mafiosi to create consensus around their power.


To receive the consensus of the population, the mafias lean on a system of values (clan organization, secret, rituals, myths) that compete with the foundations of democracy.

Any mafia is based on the notion of clan. Members – male, white, Catholic – form in a given territory a mafia family, a cosca in Sicily, a ‘ndrina in Calabria… The Sicilian cosca is not based on biological ties. One enters by cooptation and by a very special curriculum, which should not show any relationship with the police or with judges called “infamous”. The typical Calabrese mafia family is built on blood ties. The husband of a woman (biologically belonging to a mafia family) may be part of the clan. Indeed, the groom is bound to her by the “mixed blood” that flows in the veins of their children.

The mafia family ensures group cohesion, protects its members from external threat and maintains client-like relationships with people outside the organization. In return, the mafiosi are fully available to the organization and implement all instructions from their superiors. The mafia family has always priority on the biological family. In southern societies, where the trust in institutions is lacking, the mafia family, tyrannical but sympathizing, presents an image of power that reinforces its aura among populations.

The mafia has a cultural code by which there exists a myth common to the three main mafias. The legend sings the praises of Osso, Mastrosso, and Carcagnosso, three knights fleeing the Spanish Inquisition to form secret justice societies, respectively Cosa Nostra in Sicily, the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria and the Camorra in Campania. Tracing the mafia back in time and making people believe it is based on an idea of ​​justice help create a consensus among the population.

The code states that the mafia-like organization is based on secret. Affiliates must hush up its existence. Like organized crime, the mafia, pragmatic, works underground to protect itself from repression, but in the mafia world secret possesses a symbolic power, emphasized by the mystical-religious rite of affiliation. The recruit, “baptized” by his peers and sworn to become a “man of honor” (the mafiosi do not use the word “mafia”), has the impression of belonging to a higher world. The rite of affiliation is a line of demarcation between the mafia and the rest of the society, a border that makes the mafia an entity higher than the State.

The mafiosi impose secrecy to outsiders by killing those who do not respect the law of silence, the omertà. In Campania, the Casalesi clan ordered the murder of a witness seven years after he had made his statement to the police. By killing those citizens who speak, the mafiosi have made the omertà a “myth”, to the point where they make people believe that the omertà is an integral part of the southern society. By murdering, the mafia turns omertà into a cosmogonic law, higher than human values, ​​and persuades many citizens that one cannot overcome it. In Catania, a mother delivered her 18-year-old son to the clan so that he could be killed. The young man, already a seasoned killer, wanted to collaborate with the law.

All these cultural constructions (the clan, secret, myths, and the law of silence) lead to the idea that the mafia is all powerful and therefore invincible. With the myth of invincibility, populations accept the existence of the mafia as inevitable and can become the silent victims or accomplices.

The cultural code creates a “humus” that is conducive to the natural reproduction of complicity. Around the clan there is always a supportive community. This safety net is essential to the mafias and, ultimately, the strength of the mafiosi relies on their ability to accumulate and use social capital. The network of the mafia, a constellation where people with heterogeneous social background, culture, and appearance coexist, is an instrument, or even a component of power. “The poorest social groups are the recruiting area of labor for the mafias. The heads of the mafia-like organization are able to seal a pactum sceleris with the highest levels of political and economic power, high society”. In Sicily, the Cosa Nostra criminal organization has 5,500 members, that is 0.11% of the Sicilian population. Each mafioso operates within a frame of relationships of complicity that form a network of a hundred thousand people. These people belong to the world of politics, business, freelance professions and administration. This forms a social body, a “private club”, a “mafia bourgeoisie”, capable of influencing politics.


Mafia power feeds on its relation to politics. This relation expresses itself in a tortuous way. However, it follows a perennial logic. Confronted with a political mafia, the world of politics symmetrically reinforces the power of the mafia by making decisions favorable to the mafia and securing a certain degree of impunity. This is known as “mafia-like production of politics”.

The actions of politicians perpetuate this phenomenon in a particular cycle. Mafia-like organizations do not recognize the State monopoly on the use of force and employ planned violence. Institutions do not impose their judicial prerogatives by not preventing, for example, the use of extortion: impunity reigns. By legitimizing de facto the non-recognition by the mafia of the monopoly of violence by the State, public powers promote it as a sovereign and rival institution.

The mafia, which is a political actor but not the main character on the political stage, has never expected applying this prerogative as a substitute of the official representatives. This is why it promotes the election of people who are “available” to defend its interests. By influencing the vote of the citizens, the mafias switch parties easily, or willingly rely on currents in a large formation. Pragmatism, economic interest, protection, or even impunity, are the reasons for creating or breaking an alliance. Mafia encourages duplicity in politicians and tolerates that a conniving politician passes laws against it. The mafioso acts respectfully towards the politician and likes to deal with them as an equal. The relationship between the mafia and politics is based on reciprocity: their relations feed on influence, pressure, reciprocal interaction and exchange of favors (support during political campaign in exchange for public contracts). Complicity is evident on a local scale: since 1991 the State has disbanded 171 town councils because of infiltration. At the national level, the grounds for the decision of the release of Giulio Andreotti are emblematic. The Supreme Court says in its final decision on October 15, 2004 that the most important political figure of the first Italian Republic is guilty of participating in a mafia-like association until 1980, but the facts are statute barred.

Since the beginning of the second Republic in 1994, other trials have underlined collusion between political and business circles and the Sicilian mafia, at a time when the latter was planting bombs in Sicily (1992), and in Florence, Milan and Rome (1993). The purpose of these attacks was to establish a new political system after the collapse of the system supported by the Christian Democracy. Indeed, the second Republic was born in 1994 with the accession to power of a coalition of new right-wing parties. Defeated in parliamentary elections in 1995, but again in power from 2001 to 2006, the center-right-wing coalition has engaged in a major mafia-like political production. On August 22, 2001, the Minister of Infrastructure Pietro Lunardi said during an interview on the news of channel Cinque that it was necessary to “coexist” (convivere) with the mafia. Is this statement – favorable to the power of the mafia – the result of ignorance or an appreciation for the victory of the center-right in all of the 61 Sicilian constituencies? Then, from 2001 to 2006, the policies of the center-right were marked by the absence of political will for the implementation of a European arrest warrant, by laws intended to avoid criminal punishment for false statement in account, by the impunity for those who repatriate illegally exported capital, by laws on conflict of interest and especially by the non-respect of justice. These policies are guided by a neoliberal ideology: that of an economy without rules, without transparency and governed solely by the balance of power. Indeed, the economic ideas promoted by the center-right are the same that the mafias support.

Despite this mafia-like production of politics, the Italian State fights against the mafia with sophisticated legal instruments.


In September 1982, the legislator inserted into the Criminal Code (in Article 416 bis) an ad hoc incrimination for belonging to a mafia-like association. The main purpose of the new law was to compensate for the inadequacy of the law on criminal conspiracy. The legal successes resulting from the introduction of this article are undeniable. Article 416 bis has overcome many difficulties in terms of the conducting of trials against the mafias. After the first doubts about the constitutionality of these laws were quickly dispelled, interpretative difficulties disrupted the work of the judges. Indeed, willing to define what the mafia is from a sociological point of view, the legislator introduced a number of technical legal problems. The definition of 416 bis is based on the “mafia-like method”, characterized by the use of intimidation in conjunction with the associative link that influences the population. The problem here is convicting people who profit from the reputation of their mafia family. Taking “planned violence” into account, it is understandable that a request for extortion from a mafia family is more daunting than that from a short-lived clan. Sometimes the threat needs not be expressed. The mere fact that the name of a mafia family circulates in an invitation to tender suffices for other competitors to withdraw their bid. In addition, the legislator has even given the mafia a political dimension since 1992 with Article 11 bis and ter, by depicting it as a criminal association capable of influencing the electoral votes: “[…] the association is mafia-like when those who are part of it […] prevent or interfere with the free exercise of vote or provide votes for themselves or to others on the occasion of elections”. In fact, the electoral exchange is difficult to prove, because the complicity expresses itself in a subtle way, as evidenced by the crime of external participation in a mafia-like association.

In the late 1980s, the introduction of the crime of complicity in a mafia-like association formalized the existence of a criminal social body. Originally, the crime was not contemplated by the Italian Criminal Code. Indeed, Article 416 bis punishes members of the mafia for participating in a mafia-like association. The judge therefore has to prove that the person under investigation is a member of the criminal organization. This law is poorly adapted to fight against the network of the mafia, thus the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court has developed the concept of “external participation in a mafia-like association” to convict the conniving politician, banker, or agent of the intelligence services. Although not part of the mafia, the fiancheggiatori (those who are on the side) contribute to a system of favors and collusion that reinforces the power of the mafia. The crime of complicity in a mafia-like association is the legal instrument that aims to fighting mafia bourgeoisie and the political weight of the mafia. Out of 7,190 proceedings started in Italy between 1991 and 2007, 2,959 resulted in a dismissal (archiviazione), 1,992 were sent to a trial court, and 542 convictions were pronounced (against 54 judgments of non doversi procedere). The high number of dismissals of charges impedes the assessment of the effectiveness of the current definition of “external participation”. However, thanks to this legal construction, the court of first instance sentenced Marcello Dell’Utri – founder of the Forza Italia party – to eight years in prison for having objectively strengthened the power of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra.

Italian law loves nuances. It also provides for the figure of the favoreggiatore, a word that derives from favorire (support, promote), which can be translated as an act of complicity, but which denotes the act of helping a mafioso in his business without necessarily supporting the mafia organization as a whole. In January 2008, the President of the Region of Sicily Salvatore Cuffaro welcomed being convicted only of the crime of favoreggiamento at first instance. Salvatore Cuffaro has nevertheless allowed the richest man in Sicily (a member of Cosa Nostra) to “accredit” the care of his private clinic, so that they could be reimbursed by the State. Salvatore Cuffaro resigned. He is now a senator and he is protected by the “impu-immunity”.

Italian law provides for the “extended confiscation” of illegally acquired properties, for their use for social purposes (Act of March 7, 1996), for the legal control of invitations to tender, and for the dismantling of an elected assembly because of infiltration. Finally, the introduction in 1992 of the law on cooperators with the police – criminals who have turned state’s evidence – allowed the study of the phenomenon from the inside and caused a crisis in certain mafias. Above all, by providing a legal framework for the mafioso, so that he can quit the mafia, the State promotes legality against the abuse of mafia-like power.

Violence, accumulation of capital, social consensus, and political collusion are “extra-legal powers” that underpin the longevity of the mafias and form the mafia-like political system. This systemic criminality seems to be a structural way of governance in Italy.

Since the end of the antagonism between the two blocs, which had ordained the mafias as containment against the communist threat, the Italian State has weakened the power of the mafia. In particular, it counters impunity by imprisoning a large number of mafiosi. However, the mafias control the territory at all scales (region, province and municipality), as evidenced by the maps presented in this paper. They also have a transnational dimension, embodying those movements of information, money, goods, and people in which State actors become scarce. Main characters of the integrated global economy and a reflection of this new order, the mafias are structural and systemic phenomena of a globalization that has blurred the boundaries between “legal” and “illegal” (need for labor but criminalization of the immigration, prohibition of drugs that are increasingly consumed, etc.).

Given the 59 billion Euros that the Italian mafias alone store up each year through drug trafficking (main source of illegal accumulation of capital), given the increase in drug use despite prohibition policies, one wonders whether it is time to create the conditions for a calm debate on a possible public regulation of drugs across the European Union. States would thus have a chance to resize the economic power of the mafias and to increase their own authority in the eyes of the population.


The four Italian mafia-like organizations are secular political entities that control a territory through the application of systemic violence. They accumulate capital and infiltrate the legal economy. Constantly in search of social consensus, they form with their accomplices a criminal social body – the “mafia bourgeoisie” – that strongly influences politics. The Italian State is constantly trying to confine this competition.

Italian mafias and international relationships

Université de Paris I – Panthéon-Sorbonne

PHD graduate political science


Relationships between politcians and mafias and criminal activities under the test of international relationships

Thesis directed by président Jacques Soppelsa

Academic defense (viva) january the 22th 2009

Mention « très honorable » by unanimity of the members of the jury :
M. le professeur Charles Zorgbibe
M. le professeur Michel Carmona

M. le professeur Simon Petermann

Professore Giuseppe Muti

Mikhail Lebedev (Михаил Лебедев)


In Italy, four mafia organisations take part in systematic criminality. They are political entities constituted to fit social and economic surroundings. They exercise sovereignty on a territory. Anchored to their “home base”, where they wield absolute power, the mafia organisations structure and perpetuate a violent and illegal system. They deal with a huge network of accomplices. They animate cultural schemes and benefit from a social consensus coming from the population.

Italian mafias are vast scientific objects. They were born with private property spreading at the beginning of the 19th century. Progressively, the underworld has grown in concomitance with the new modern Italian state born only in 1860. Over one century and a half, politicians have used the mafias as a way to administer the South of Italy.

The end of a bipolar world has swept across Italy. It has led to the fall of the political system based on mafia collusion. The first Italian Republic (1945-1992) was over. Immediately, the mafia lost the political and « military » power included in the American containment strategy which consisted in preventing any of the free world countries to fall to communism. Losing impunity and their official partner, the Sicilian mafia decided to find other ways.

Since the end of the antagonism between the two blocks, the mafia’s power has been growing stronger. Italian mafias control their territories and have a transnational dimension. They embody this movement of knowledge, money, goods and person in

which the governmental actors are less and less frequent. The Mafias participate in the global and integrated economy. They reflect this new deal and the structural and systematic phenomenon of the globalisation.

Keywords : geopolitic, Italy, mafias, State, gouvernance, control of the territory, transnational, Cold War, globalization, drug.

Camorra Murder : number 26

On the 6th of May 2008, via Regina Margherita, a street in Secondigliano district, Pasquale Salomone, 45 years old, was waiting for someone  when two hired killers arrived. Then, they shot to death Pasquale Salamone. The victim was linked to the Licciardi clan. This napolitan mafia family is a very powerful one. The Licciardi mob organisation is inside a cartel namned « Alleanza di Secondigliano » (Secondigliano ‘s alliance). This criminal  ssociation controls the north suburbs of Napoli. See the map above.
A citizen has been injured by a bullet during this mafia operation. But, in Italy, innocents are always specific. And naturally, there is no witness…
It is the 26th Camorra’s killing since the beginning of the year.

‘Ndrangheta « mafia number one »

Eurispes, the politic, economic and social institute has just published his last report on organized crime in Italy. According to Eurispes, The ‘Ndrangheta, the calabrian mafia,  has becomed the richest and the most dangerous criminal organisation for the italian state. This analysis confirmes the latest reports from the antimafia parliamentary commission and from the italian intelligence services (art. 13). Recently, the United State administration decided to include the ‘Ndrangheta into his black list considering calabrian mafia has infiltrated lots of parts of the economy in the USA.

According to Eurispes, in 2007, the calabrian mafia earned 44 thousands millions euros. It would represent 2,9% of the italian Gross National Product (GNP estimed at 1.535 thousand millions euros). The “‘Ndrangheta holding’s” annual income is as important as the GNP of Estonia (13,2 thousands millions euros) added to the slovenian one (30,4 thousands millions d’euros).

Drug trafficking is still a profitable activity with 27,24 thousands millions euros a year (62% of the total incomes). Almost each gramme of cocaïne consumed in Italy has been dealt by the mob calabrian families called “’ndrina”.

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