When one speaks about Switzerland, one immediately thinks about a land of banks and money flows, where organised crime also manages its capital. However, Mafia in Switzerland is rarely discussed, as well as its real and proven presence in the territory, established for decades, which only later becomes the intermediary to the laundering of illicit funds. Nicoletta della Valle is the Fedpol Director since 2014, after having been Deputy Director from 2006 to 2012. The Federal Office of Police (Fedpol) is, in a broad sense, the police force of the Confederation. Fedpol is the contact point for Swiss and foreign police authorities and it carries out criminal police and security tasks, as the federal police do. The conversation with Director Nicoletta della Valle shows us the real dimension experienced by the Swiss Confederation, where in January 2020, for the first time, two Italians with links to the Mafia were expelled and fifteen people were prevented from entering Switzerland, for links to Italian organised crime as well.
Can we really talk about a Mafia presence in Switzerland? If yes, how does the presence of organised crime arise and develop in the country? What measures have been taken to combat it and what results have been achieved to date?
All kind of mafias are present in Switzerland. The ‘Ndrangheta is the most present one. The first ‘Ndrangheta structures were established in the early 1970s. The Swiss based members have close ties with the central members in Calabria, where strategic and organisational decisions are taken. The links with ‘Ndrangheta offshoots in Northern Italy – from where activities in Switzerland are planned and conducted – as well as with the structures operating in Germany in border areas, are also worth mentioning.
The ‘Ndrangheta has created certain areas of influence in Switzerland: some regions are under the territorial control of the local gangs. The mafias in Switzerland is of many facets and act opportunistically: in particular, drug trafficking is their main source of income. They also play an important role in arms trafficking (mainly to supply with weapons their clans in Italy), money laundering, investments in the local legal economy (especially in the gastronomic and real estate sectors) and in offering refuge to fugitives.
In Switzerland, mafias essentially aim to penetrate legal and illegal markets. In some cases, they also seek to exert political influence, for example by controlling the Italian immigrant community. Acts of violence such as murders are also perpetrated in Switzerland, usually to bring mafia members back into line. However, it has often not been possible to identify any direct connection with the Mafia, in the past. In order to combat organised crime, Fedpol relies on a multidimensional approach via the COC Countering Organised Crime working platform: repression is not in itself sufficient, it must also be accompanied by preventive measures instead. Fedpol issues entry bans or expulsions against mafia’s members, for example. National and international cooperation is also extremely important. We therefore work closely with the Italian authorities, especially within the framework of joint investigation teams. The exchange of information with our Italian police partners is therefore essential: most of the information comes from Italy. We can therefore largely benefit from the expertise of the Italian authorities in the fight against mafia. However, we also intend to strengthen cooperation with Swiss authorities that do not perform security tasks, such as land registry or tax authorities. In the meantime, the mafia continues to do big business. The proceeds have been placed into the legal money circuit and the mafia will continue to follow this path. “Follow the money’ is our motto.
In 2000, there was the case of lawyer Moretti, a money launderer at ‘Ndrangheta service, who was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment in Switzerland for having laundered 75 billion old lira between 1993 and 2000. This was the first historic conviction in Switzerland for organised crime. How serious is the phenomenon of money laundering still today? And how impactful is it on Switzerland’s economy?
When the first members of the mafias settled in Switzerland, there was no anti-money laundering law yet. It only came into force in 1994 and it was first successfully implemented in 2003, when a Ticino lawyer was convicted of money laundering, drug trafficking and membership of a mafia organisation. Mafia’s affiliates were thus able to take advantage of this situation. Switzerland is an important financial centre and therefore appealing to the mafias, guarantying a certain discretion. The mafias, on the other hand, have large amounts of cash at their disposal which they try to invest in legal activities in Switzerland in order to infiltrate the social and economic fabric and launder the proceeds of their crimes. The mafia uses discreet methods to circulate its liquid assets, such as leasing luxury cars, buying real estate, restaurants or companies. As already mentioned, the mafias have accumulated large amounts of money. Fedpol will pay more attention to the gatekeeper role played by intermediaries. Mafias do not go to the bank with suitcases full of cash to bring their money into the legal system, but rely on lawyers and notaries. By following the flow of money, it is possible to recognise the links and functioning of the mafias in Switzerland. The fight against the mafias cannot therefore be separated from close cooperation with the Italian authorities, which provide us with important clues at an early stage, nor from the exchange of information between the actors and the Swiss authorities closely concerned about the flow of mafia money (land register, taxes).
What about the relations between the Federal Police and the Italian magistracy, is there a full and mutual collaboration?
The cooperation between the Swiss and the Italian authorities works well. Fedpol works closely with the Italian law enforcement agencies (Guardia di Finanzia, Polizia di Stato and Carabinieri). The public prosecutor’s office of the Swiss Confederation also has close links with the Italian judiciary. The creation of joint investigation teams also brings real added value in terms of criminal proceedings. Several platforms have been set up at Italy’s initiative, proving invaluable in intensifying this exchange of information: for example, the operational protocol or, more recently, the @ON project with Europol, in which Fedpol also participates. Fedpol is also a member of Interpol’s I-CAN anti-mafia working group, which is led by Italy. Although the legal bases and procedures are different in Switzerland and Italy, we have so far enjoyed active and fruitful co-operation. Thanks to this exchange of information, we can benefit from each other’s experiences, best practices in the fight against the mafia and, above all, we can count on an excellent coordination, such as the operation conducted in July 2020 between Switzerland and Italy leading to the arrest of a ‘Ndrangheta boss and two of his associates.
The Frauenfeld mafia, operating in Switzerland for 40 years and linked to the Vibo Valentia and Reggio Calabria mafia, was discovered in 2014. Which mafia organisation do you think represents the greatest danger to Swiss society and why?
The ‘Ndrangheta is characterised by a strong presence in the country and should therefore be looked at as the most potentially dangerous mafia. In the meantime, various ‘Ndrangheta structures have settled permanently in Switzerland. The cohesion between members is particularly strong, given the frequent presence of family ties. Family pressure therefore makes it almost impossible to escape from the organisation. Violence is also used to enforce discipline, when necessary. Moreover, in respect of other mafias, they are also considered to be a major threat, despite the fact that less information is available about them. In fact, although they are less structured and established in the territory, their criminal activities, as well as their infiltration into the legal economy, are quite significant.
Is there any anti-mafia awareness in Switzerland? In other words, is the phenomenon perceived in civil society as a danger, to which not only the police and the judiciary must respond, but instead requiring a choral response from all citizens?
The impact of the mafias on Switzerland has been underestimated for a long time. In fact, mafias were considered a specific Italian problem for a long time, even though they already extended their criminal activities beyond the Italian border. This is why we must continue our efforts, strengthen cooperation and awareness among all Swiss authorities, not only the criminal prosecution authorities but also the ‘civil’ ones.