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 <>.


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