Recovery plan: the mafias’ revenge against the institutions. Interview with Raffaele Cantone

Roma,10/10/2018 Eurispes corruzione tra realtà e rappresentazione

Mafia and corruption are two criminal spheres that overlap and remain different, and yet they nourish each other. They observe and recognise each other even though they claim different paths. While the mafias began to be defeated when there was a cultural change – when people no longer pretended to say: ‘they kill each other anyway’ – corruption is perceived as defenceless, not hurting entire communities and territories, not killing anyone; on the contrary, the corrupt and the corruptor are clever at surviving in a world of taxes and levies. What is missing is the action taken against mafias, the cultural change needed to perceive and recognise it as a real crime that kills the future of all while enriching the present of a minority. Raffaele Cantone is a magistrate, essayist and academic. After years at the Anti-Mafia District Directorate in Naples, he worked at the Ufficio del Massimario of the Supreme Court of Cassation, from 2014 to 2019, he was President of the National Anti-Corruption Authority, and in 2020 he was appointed by the CSM as Public Prosecutor in Perugia.

Corruption and mafias, these two concepts weigh on our civil society and the economy of the Country. How much are they linked, and how much do they feed each other, but above all, are they both really perceived in their gravity?

Corruption and mafias are two concepts that refer to two criminal realities that are and remain different from each other, but which have significant areas of overlap. The mafias, in fact, need, in order to exist, to establish relations with the legal economy and politics. Above all, the present mafias prefer to use corruption increasingly rather than intimidation to reach their ends. Moreover, to corrupt an official with money can be more profitable for the mafias because it ensures their loyalty. Therefore, the presence and strength of mafias increase the risks of corruption, and on the other hand, the willingness to accept corruption ends up facilitating mafias. Underestimating corruption by considering it, after all, a system that makes the economy go round risks, indirectly, strengthening the mafias. 

A problem is not often raised: when a Mafia member has served his term of imprisonment, even a long one, and returns to his territory. You have carried out high-profile investigations, especially against the Casalesi clan, the La Torre clan of Mondragone, but since that time, decades have passed. What is the real danger for the territories? Is a return to the past possible?

The mafia member who has not repented tries, in every way, to maintain relations with his territory and when he returns, he wants to resume his place in the criminal hierarchy and to start again to manage illicit affairs. The long imprisonments, which, today, follow convictions for mafia crimes, mean, however, that the external context is, once the mafioso regains his freedom, very different.  Therefore, the danger is that of violent contrast with the groups that, however, have occupied the empty spaces, rather than a return to the past. It is also necessary to underline how, many times, after having served their sentences, the mafiosi return to territories that have regenerated, also thanks to the action of the civil society.  It becomes then much more difficult for them to operate because that climate of fear and silence no longer exists.

We have repeatedly discussed in this column the European mafias and their economic influence in Europe. His investigations in the late 1990s and early 2000s already showed the existence of mafia capital in several European countries.

In the 1990s, the La Torre clan from Mondragone invested in Scotland, where they had a dense network of interests, as well as in the Netherlands. The Casalesi clan regularly invested in Romania, Hungary and Germany. We are talking about just two of the main camorra clans in the Caserta area, so it is easy to imagine the turnover of illicit capital that has invaded European countries more or less consciously. It is a fundamental point that should be continuously stressed because mafias are transnational. They invest regardless of geographical borders. No Country or territory can be said to be immune, in Italy or in the world. A continuous anti-mafia effort is necessary, as well as a continuous sensitivity to protect the healthy economy that produces work, because the first victim is precisely the economy that allows the development and wealth of a territory.

There is a lot of talk about the mafias’ infiltration into the economic system. Even though, in my opinion, they are a stable presence. How can this contamination be prevented? The subject of contention is the Procurement Code, which many see as cumbersome, while others call for fewer controls. How do we resolve this impasse?

Legal economy infiltration seems to be in Mafias’ DNA; they need it to reinvest the illegal profits and to multiply them. Control of the legal economy also means social control and the possibility of conditioning politics. In order to prevent it, it is necessary not to lower our guard down with preventive controls. The mafias are very good at taking advantage of emergencies and exceptions to the rules. Concerning the Procurement Code, I believe that an excess of regulations and, therefore, bureaucratic complications are bad because they do not allow the execution of works. In fact, the excess of complications can itself be an incentive to corruption. We need to find the right balance, but even more than that, we need to avoid what has happened in recent years, which is to change the rules of procurement continually. The bureaucracy becomes disoriented and is no longer able to provide answers.

We will have Recovery Plan funds available soon, over two hundred billion euros for our economy. There are two challenges: making sure that organised crime does not take advantage of them and, on the other hand, moving quickly, can the Italian system manage this time?

What lies ahead with the Recovery funds is unprecedented, and it is difficult to make predictions. The risks, however, that criminality could take advantage of it are enormous because the idea that one should spend without worrying too much is gaining ground, considering the rules a burden, as always. Deregulation is the situation that the mafias prefer because they can use their ability to ‘convince’, namely intimidation and corruption. We must have the courage to say it clearly: the Recovery Fund is a great opportunity for the Country, but it can become an enormous risk and can be the occasion that the mafias are waiting to take their revenge against the Institutions. And the deep crisis of the social anti-mafia (unfortunately under everyone’s eyes) can be a further asset for the mafias.

You have seen the face of organised crime from the 90’s to the present day. What would you define as the most dangerous aspects, and what developments do you consider to be the future challenges that we must face in the immediacy of the present?

The thing that worries me the most is the capacity of the new mafias to blend in, as they are more and more able to occupy a grey area and to look without coppola (the Sicilian cloth cap) and weapons but in suits and ties. It is a mafia that also bothers a distracted public opinion less because it is evidently caught up in the problems that the pandemic is causing us every day.


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