MAFIA GANGS MOVE TO GERMANY AS BUSINESS HITS HARD TIMES IN SICILY

In dark gray the presence of locals, while in the gray light the presence of ‘ndrine and / or their activity [map via Wikimedia Commons]

 

Sicilian mafia clans are decamping north to Germany in search of business opportunities in response to poor economic conditions in southern Europe and an Italian government crackdown on organised crime.

Details obtained by the Guardian of a large-scale anti-drug operation in Germany’s south-west reveal the extent to which mafia clans are said to have migrated to some of the wealthiest regions of Europe’s economic powerhouse after running into financial problems in Italy.

Nineteen suspected drug traffickers were arrested and €4m worth of goods and money seized in the south-western town of Villingen-Schwenningen on 21 June, in a joint raid by the Palermo branch of the Italian finance police and Germany’s criminal investigation department

The gang was allegedly operating mainly in Rottweil and Stuttgart in Baden-Württemberg, which borders France and Switzerland and has the lowest poverty rate of all of Germany’s 16 states.

According to Italian authorities, the arrested mobsters smuggled tons of marijuana and cocaine from Albania to Germany and laundered the profits in slot machines that they forced owners of local bars and shops to install.

Italian police also suspect that profits from drug trafficking were used to buy weapons in the Balkans.

In 2016, a 300-strong team of investigators started using wiretaps and hidden cameras to track the suspects’ movements. One of the wiretaps seen by the Guardian records a drive-by shooting in May 2016 in which gang members are said to have shattered the window of a bar to intimidate an owner who had refused to install slot machines managed by the mafia.

Investigators say the drug traffickers were working in Germany at the service of the Mondino family, a Sicilian mafia gang based in Palermo in the Passo di Riganò neighbourhood

The man in charge of the drug-smuggling and the money-laundering operations is believed to be a German-born Italian businessman who owns two restaurants in Baden-Württemberg. According to the Italian finance police in Palermo, the suspect has strong ties with several Sicilian mobsters.

Sicily’s most powerful mafia gang, the Cosa Nostra, is also believed to have started expanding to Germany.

According to figures from the Italian ministry of the interior, 4,000 mobsters have been arrested in Sicily since 1990.

Sicily’s construction work market, one of the most important mafia businesses in the region, has been severely hit by the economic crisis. According to ANCE, the Italian construction businessmen association, profits in the industry have dropped by 90% since 2007.

Unable to pay protection money, Sicilian shopkeepers and businessmen are said to be increasingly reporting approaches by the Cosa Nostra to the police.

“The Italian mafia, including the powerful ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria, has invested money and goods in Germany in the last years. As other legal companies in Europe, they have found very profitable business opportunities there,” said Giuseppe Campobasso, who heads the the Italian financial police force’s anti-drug unit in Sicily and led the operation in Germany from the Italian side.

“Italians have migrated to England, the US or other parts of the world to find job opportunities. Unfortunately, we have exported a lot of criminals too. Mobsters are facing a period of crisis here in Sicily. Some of them packed their bags and headed to Villingen or Stuttgart. And they did find a job there, a criminal and very profitable one.’’

Petra Reski, a journalist who has written a book about the mafia’s growing influence in Germany, said the country now had the highest mafia presence in Europe after Italy. “They are looking for safe investment opportunities that allow them to launder money, so inevitably they get drawn drawn to the wealthier parts of Europe, and in particular areas where there are already people and business with connections back to Italy.”

Baden-Württemberg is home to a large Italian community who arrived in Germany as part of the country’s guest worker programme in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

In recent years, police have begun to make slow progress in uncovering mafia networks in the Rhineland region, as well as former East German state Thuringia. In March this year, Italian authorities arrested an alleged member of Calabria’s ‘Ndrangheta, now considered the most powerful mafia group, in connection with a 2007 massacre in Duisburg that left six people dead.

In January 2013, 17 people from Germany and Sicily were arrested at a Cologne bar on suspicion of involvement in a tax evasion scheme linked to mafia groups.

A 2015 investigation revealed that the ‘Ndrangheta had started to use the city of Erfurt as a hub for money-laundering operations worth up to €100m, stretching across 20 companies and 30 restaurants in German cities including Leipzig, Dresden, Baden-Baden, Kassel, Munich and Münster.

Read the article on theguardian