“Cosa Nostra” remains a criminal reference model. And it’s a living model, not a spectre rising steadily from the past.” This lucid analysis presented by General Teo Luzi, General Commander of the Carabinieri, immediately draws the danger of underestimating certain mafia phenomena, and how this involves not understanding the new “marketist” dimensions that they assume. The same applies to another transformation, leading organised crime to stop attacking the territories but to collude with them, with violence as a weapon.
From General Alberto Dalla Chiesa to the simple carabiniere Salvatore Nuvoletta killed at the hands of the casalesi clan at only 20 years of age, there is the parable of how hard the mafias hit the Carabinieri Corps. Teo Luzi, before being appointed General Commander of the Carabinieri in January 2021, was also provincial Commander in Palermo, during the important operation that blocked the rebirth of the Mafia Cupola.
General, in your career you were on the front line in Palermo from 2007 to 2012, where you conducted the “Perseo” operation: one hundred Mafia members were arrested, while they were rebuilding the Palermo provincial commission, which is the mafia body responsible for the most important decisions. What struck you the most about that operation and what has changed, how has the Cosa Nostra changed compared to today?
“Operation” Perseo “was conducted by the Carabinieri of Palermo in 2008. 100 arrests, including historical bosses, and the disruption of the project to reconstitute the provincial commission – the Dome – which with its decisions had already marked the season of massacres. That operation offered a sort of “conceptual map” to guide us in a “criminal landscape” of our country, which is still very concrete, capturing three very peculiar aspects: Cosa Nostra draws its authority (and effectiveness) from the organization; it is led by gerontocracy; it is a reference in the criminal landscape. The wiretaps recorded for months the conversations of Palermo mafia the leaders who, gathered in unlikely places – a garage, a butcher, even a hospital – were weaving the plots of a new strategy. “We don’t have to do like the Neapolitans, each on his own. We must seek harmony”- they said. From following the rules to respecting the elderly is a short step. Here comes the other aspect: the gerontocracy of “Cosa Nostra”. The Perseo operation brings Gerlando Alberti, 80 years old at the time, back to prison. He was arrested by Colonel Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa in 1971. He died on January 31, 2012 at the age of 84, while he was under house arrest at home in Palermo.
The first two aspects – organization and gerontocracy – then led to the following unavoidable fact: “Cosa Nostra” remains a criminal model of reference. And it is a living model, not a spectre rising steadily from the past. In a manner of speaking, it is a weakened spectre, but still extremely dangerous, requiring constant attention. Exactly ten years after the “Perseo” operation, in December 2018, the Palermo Carabinieri also successfully conducted the “Cupola 2.0” operation, which led to the arrest of 49 people suspected to be part of the main districts of the province. Thus, the second attempt to set up the provincial mafia commission was also nipped in the bud. Looking at the developments in the operational strategies of the Cosa Nostra, I would say that today the mafia has a “marketist” face: it goes with the market flow, offering goods and services. Drugs, prostitution, always requested by thousands of people. But also performance finalized at reducing business costs. I am thinking about the illegal waste management or the supply of underpaid or enslaved workers. In short, the mafia no longer has an aggressive relationship with the territory, but typically collusive. Of course. Violence is ready to be used. But it must be indispensable.
Many, so many, are the fallen men of the Arma in the fight against the mafia. Among these, the figure of the carabiniere Salvatore Nuvoletta, who was killed by the Casalesi clan at the age of 20, has always struck me due to territorial proximity. What remains of the extreme sacrifice of men and women, normal people who too many times have found themselves fighting “with their bare hands” overflowing mafia violence? What needs to be done so that the death of these people does not become just a commemoration occasion, an anniversary?
Since the war, the Carabinieri Arma has lost over 1,300 “children”. Believe me, there is no rhetoric in this word. They are truly our children and their sacrifice marks us. None of them was an unwitting victim. They are men who did not hesitate. They put everything in place to defend the democratic institutions and the rights of citizens against all forms of crime: banditry, mafia, street crime, even the most reckless violence. And it is true, many of them were very young. Appointed Salvatore Nuvoletta had enlisted at the age of 17 and three years later, in 1982, he fell under the gunshots of a Camorra commando who wanted to “avenge” the death of an affiliate, Mario Schiavone, who died a few days earlier in a fire fight with a Carabinieri patrol. Lieutenant Marco Pittoni, who was 33 when, in 2008 in Pagani, in the province of Salerno, he confronted two robbers in a post office. He did not use his own weapon in order to not endanger the lives of the numerous people present. So he lost his own life. Brigadier Cerciello Rega, whose most recent tragic story that we all know, had been married for just over a month when he died. Remembering so much sacrifice is not a simple recall. Memory is not a container. It is the “tension” that crosses us and with that we face our daily life. At the moment, as we speak, over one hundred thousand Carabinieri are doing their duty. And they never stopped, even during the most dramatic periods of the health emergency that the country is going through. In the end, this extraordinary industriousness is our best way to honour the many who are no longer with us. This is how the example of so much courage nourishes the courage of the example that every Carabiniere must give every day. Then there is another aspect. The Carabinieri Arma speaks on the territory to young people, in schools. We have a campaign to spread the culture of legality. It is a very important chance for the tragic episodes that involved us to give substance to the words of “good citizenship” that we want to spread. Our young people often live in a perennial and overwhelming present. I think this cultural operation can help giving greater value to their lives.
From your point of view, what is the meaning of the word “Anti-Mafia” or what does the response of the State need to be really effective in order to face an organized crime system that moves with great speed and flexibility such as Mafia? Are we able to give a concrete response, even transnationally, to the mafias continuous threat?
“Anti-mafia” is the duty of action. First of all, to listen carefully to the territory. Because the mafia is first and foremost rooted and it is necessary that citizens find safe references. I think about the Station Commanders who live the reality of the different communities, representing the image of the State and ready to listen, to support, and to indicate a path. Then the investigations arrive, conducted by our qualified Departments, the ROS and the investigative units, alongside the Judiciary System, with method and perseverance, as attested by the succession of operations. For this aspect, it is important to highlight two lines, certainly interconnected to each other, the aggression against illicit capital and the transnational dynamics of criminal organizations. The mafia is increasingly a “business” and is increasingly becoming a “criminal holding”. General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, when he worked as Commander of the Carabinieri Legion of Palermo, from 1966 to 1973, achieved exceptional results, culminating in the first organic report on mafias new structures presented to the Anti-Mafia Parliamentary Commission. With that Report, the then Colonel Dalla Chiesa put in place his own innovative investigative method, anticipating the early signs of the mafia terror period. From his analysis emerged the need to address the mafia organization with a unified vision and to follow its economic profiles to confiscate criminal assets and capital, especially – note well- when these are invested in foreign countries.
These are two interpretations of an extraordinary modernity, which certainly inspired the introduction of the mafia-type association crime, ten days after the massacre, and which, even today, mark the setting of the investigative action in the fight against all criminal organizations. The assault on illicit assets is an integral part of the Carabinieri Arma’s investigative culture. In the past five years alone, we have set 434 specialized units. Another 175 will follow.
The access of all the police forces to the suspicious transaction reports database, which we have been waiting for some time now, moves in the same direction as indicated by General Dalla Chiesa. Certainly, looking at the global nature of the threat, we must recognize the progressive development of international cooperation in the fight against crime beyond national borders. I am thinking, in a European context, about Eurojust and therefore about the “Joint Investigation Teams” and the “European Investigation Order”, agile and modern instruments of judicial cooperation. Of not less importance are the cooperation channels of Interpol, Europol and Schengen, through which foreign police forces can quickly reach both an exchange of information and diversified forms of cooperation while operating in a foreign country. However, significant differences persist in terms of instruments that the laws of single countries offer to law enforcement agencies to combat organized crime. The sensitivity in approaching safeguarding of national sovereignty related issues is understandable. In this context, the fragmentation of the rules promote a “balloon effect” whereby criminal organizations move “at high altitude”, weakening investigative efforts. Failure to provide for mafia-type association crime in the foreign legal systems has often represented an obstacle to the identification, search and capture of Italian criminals linked to the mafia. The Italian experience is based on the fight against the endemic presence of these forms of crime and it represents today a reference model and therefore I can say with absolute certainty that the Italian Police Forces, for the results achieved so far, can well be identified as, a capacity model and an example of success in the international context.
Before we felt a strong reluctance among citizens, especially in the territories controlled by the mafias, to collaborate with the police. The cases were rare and exemplary. Today the trend has completely reversed and there is a strong request for participatory security, to collaborate, to report, although not always it seems to be completely satisfied. Is this a wrong analysis or perception? And how to encourage greater collaboration between citizens and the police?
Let’s start with a basic concept. Extortion is an essential part of the mafia identity. Extortion is not just a parasitic process of accumulation; it remains fully functional to the exercise of mafia power which is first and foremost, as I mentioned earlier, territorial roots. In all this, we gather appreciable signs of renewal. The incisive contrasting activities of the Judiciary System and the Police, the effectiveness of the tools to support entrepreneurs who want to undertake a path of legality and, last but not least, the undoubted maturation of the civil commitment against the mafia culture promoted, as a result, virtuous behaviours. It is above all a choice of “dignity”: the affirmation of one’s work against mafia arrogance. However this progressive awareness is not apart from the acknowledgment of the “convenience” of reacting, especially in the current difficult economic situation. Reporting is not only fair, it is useful. Because the help that can be offered today and that looks like an opportunity to save a business from failure, will soon turn into a suffocating trap. Let me highlight now the current economic situation. The crisis generated by the pandemic is gradually attacking our country’s economy supporting structure and criminal organizations are constantly looking for companies in distress to “revive” through liquidity of illicit origin. A form of extortion that appears apparently to save the entrepreneur by putting capital at his disposal rather than taking them away, and that is why it is often the victim himself who seeks his executioner who will initially propose economic strategies and stratagems to evade the tax authorities, asking “only” a share in the profits in exchange. But in a short time the criminal organization will push to increase the debt to an ever more suffocating trap that will end up by completely strangling the company.
Within the last fifteen years, only referring to the hateful phenomenon of extortion, police reports increased by more than 60%, from 5,740 in 2004 to 9,274 in 2020, even in areas where mafia expressions are endemic. In this context, the articulated and widespread device of the Stations and “Tenenze” represents a constant and qualified point of reference for local autonomies network, combining the principles of “proximity” to the police and “subsidiarity” of local authorities in a natural and immediate manner. Back to Palermo context which I referred to earlier, on January 26, the Provincial Command carried out the detention of a crime suspect procedure against 16 mafia families’ affiliates operating within the “Tommaso Natale” district, which was responsible, among other crimes, for a series of extortions against traders and building contractors. During the investigation, five victims spontaneously filed a report with the Polices Forces, in the awareness of finding full support even in the delicate stages of actors’ responsibilities assessment.
The Covid-19 pandemic unfortunately created ample opportunities for mafias to continue their intrusion into the legal economy fabric, within the weakest and at risk of poverty part of society: what can we do and what we must do in order to react to this real social emergency? Law enforcement operations are ongoing, and not only led by the Carabinieri Arma, but what is still missing in view of eradicating these criminal organizations?
By all means, the health emergency considerably attracted the interest of crime organizations in exploiting the opportunity to invest, in Italy and abroad, not only during the various phases of restrictions due to the containment measures but also in anticipation of the beginning of the desired “normalization” phase. During the lockdown, the high demand for personal protective equipment and medical devises to be used in hospitals intensive care units, coupled with the absence of an adequate market supply, represented a business opportunity for the mafia organizations, traditionally active in the supply sectors. As well as in public works, where the mafias, have attempted to extend their control in the building and waste management sectors and to draw on huge EU and national investments, taking advantage of the administrative and bureaucratic simplifications associated with the emergency. On the public procurement side, “special hospital waste” management has been identified as one of the most risky sector. Through the drug market, the more structured criminal organizations were able to always maintain a large economic availability to be reinvested in new sectors of interest, since this criminal sector, even in the most critical period of the pandemic, did not suffer any deflation by changing trading and import strategies. The current period, affected by the second pandemic wave, has then determined the adoption of a series of containment measures in a situation of increasing economic crisis, in a general context of suffering and a feeling of fatigue, especially among the weakest social tissues, who begin to feel the weight of the situation more than others.
In contrast, the clans have large amount of money and they can invest and transform their resources – criminal activities income- in the legal economy, transforming and laundering their own money by taking over companies and economic activities in distress. The emerging economic and financial context put the entire production and commercial circuit at risk of infiltration by crime organizations, by facilitating corruptive dynamics and illicit relations among entrepreneurs, public officials and criminal organizations. The most polluted remains the procurement sector, especially in those areas in which the Public Administration will divert substantial flows of investments as soon as the end of the state of emergency will be declared. The most exposed is the health sector, both because it will benefit from enormous resources and because of the social control that it can guarantee.
The funds that will be allocated for the enhancement of public works and infrastructures are also an object of interest, including digital ones: the road network, the hydrogeological risk containment works and the conversion to a green economy, the telematics connection networks and the entire cement cycle. All these considerations, which oriented the Carabienieri Arma prevention and repression instruments thanks to the analysis of the territorial commands by the “Comparti di Specialità” and also through updated and shared analysis within the “Permanent Body for monitoring and analysis of the risk of infiltration into the economy by mafia-type organized crime system” that the Carabinieri Arma joined with enthusiasm right from the start. Furthermore, the pandemic has been an accelerator for digital transformation, and this is also one of the challenges the Carabienieri Arma is adapting its investigative tools for, through web patrolling activities, for which the different sectors are already being established, first of all the Carabinieri Health Protection Command. The “CC Tutela della Salute” Command is today at the forefront to detect organizational shortcomings of healthcare, hospital and assistance structures (especially for the elderly) in terms of emergency management as well as to identify possible situations connected with the illegal introduction of unauthorized vaccines and pharmaceutical products on the national territory and the their illegal administration. With reference to the interests of organized crime in relation with the health emergency, two investigative activities were recently concluded by the Arma – one in Sicily and one in Campania – which confirm the attempt to impose a “proximity criminal welfare” through disguised forms of usury. The Carabinieri Arma operations take place on a daily basis but it is important that civil society becomes fully aware of the medium and long term consequences of relying on the crime offers, denouncing any attempt of insertion into the local economic fabric.
 April 26, 1973. General Dalla Chiesa’s Report at the Anti-Mafia Parliamentary Commission.