Sunday, June 6, 2010

The environmental mafia

ROME — The mafia's waste disposal and illegal dumping business in Italy continued to flourish in 2009, defying the global economy's woes, environmental organisation Legambiente said on Friday.

Circumventing environmental regulations is "the only business that is immune from crises," Legambiente said in a statement, estimating the crime syndicates' turnover in 2009 at 20.5 billion euros (24.5 billion dollars), virtually unchanged compared to 2008.

"The environmental mafia proves again to be solid and powerful holding," said Legambiente President Vittorio Cogliati Dezza.

The biggest growth in revenues (from 3.9 to 5.2 billion euros) came from the handling and disposal of trash, such as spent computer parts which were sent to Africa or East Asia.

The value of its substandard cement business, the eco-mafia's bread and butter, saw a slight drop, from 7.499 to 7.463 billion.

"It is a very lucrative business for clans, which basically control all of the cement production line in the country and because of that they are awarded national and local contracts to build public and private works," Legambiente said.

Another thriving sector in 2009 was crimes involving animals, such as dogfighting, smuggling of endangered species, clandestine butchering and illegal horse races. The business is now worth some three billion euros.

In geographical terms, the southern Campania region around Naples, home to the Camorra syndicate remained the main hub for eco-mafia business, accounting for 17.1 percent of ascertained crimes committed.

Rome's region of Lazio was second, accounting for 12.1 percent.

Renowned Italian writer and journalist Roberto Saviano, whose hard-hitting bestseller on the Camorra, "Gomorra", was turned into a film, said in an introduction to the Legambiente report that "trash has become one of the most profitable businesses over the years".

"Using Italian land as a mine where you can bury trash is more profitable than cultivating the same land," Saviano said. The veteran Mafia informer's farewell gift was an indictment, accusing him in the kind of crime he long helped prevent – a $1 million murder for hire

"Through their environmental businesses crime groups make annual profits that exceed those of Fiat (...) or Benetton," he added.

Saviano is living under police protection after mafia threats.