In coronavirus-hit Italy, the mob is already looking to clean up

'The Italian mob can turn threats into opportunities,' a top government anti-mafia investigator says

As Italy mourns the thousands dead after contracting coronavirus and the country braces for life in an economic wasteland, one rung of society looks to win big: organised crime.

More than 10,000 people have died in Italy after becoming infected with the virus, which has forced the country into a lockdown that is devastating its economy.

"The Italian mafia can turn threats into opportunities," a top government anti-mafia investigator Giuseppe Governale said.

From the historic Cosa Nostra in Sicily, to the immensely powerful 'Ndrangheta in Calabria and trigger-happy Camorra in Naples, Italy's mafias were "caught on the back foot by the virus, but are now organising themselves," Mr Governale said.

Last Thursday, the Economist Intelligence Unit said it expected Italy's GDP to contract by 7 per cent for the year.

Italian experts say about 65 per cent of Italian small and medium-sized businesses are at risk of bankruptcy.

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That is music to the ears of the country's mobs, who use extortion and usury to feast on ailing businesses.

"Just look at the portfolio of the mafias, to see how much they can earn from this pandemic," Italian anti-mafia author Roberto Saviano told the Repubblica newspaper last week.

"Where have they invested over the last few decades? Multi-service companies [canteens, cleaning, disinfection], waste recycling, transportation, funeral homes, oil and food distribution. That's how they'll make money.

"The mafias know what you have, and will need, and they give it, and will give it, on their own terms."

Mr Saviano drew comparisons to the last epidemic in Italy, the 1884 cholera outbreak in Naples, which killed more than half of the city's inhabitants.

The government paid out vast sums of money for a clean-up, which went straight into the pockets of the Camorra.

The mafia "is already carefully planning ahead to when the economy will start to be rebuilt," Mr Governale, who heads up Italy's anti-mafia investigation directorate, said.

"There will be a lot of money going around."

Mr Governale, 62, a Sicilian, said his team would prepare a plan to combat mafia infiltration.

"They will be looking for loopholes in the system. We'll have to keep our eyes open for ... suspicious operations, the creation of new companies, dummy corporations," he said.

Giuseppe Pignatone, a former mafia hunter in Reggio Calabria, said the pandemic would "inevitably make the judiciary's job more difficult over the coming weeks and years".

The trials of hundreds of people have ground to a halt.

The redirection of police resources due to the crisis could also contribute to the mafia blossoming, as officers "already weighed down by new roles may have to face public order problems", Mr Pignatone said.

According to the Stampa, Italy's secret service has warned the government about potential riots in southern Italy, fomented by organised crime groups, should the centre of the outbreak move from the north to the south of Italy.

Crime experts say mobsters orchestrated revolts in jails across the country after the outbreak, with prisoners demanding early release over fears they would become infected in overcrowded prisons.

"Very worryingly, some with lighter sentences are being allowed out," Nicola Gratteri, a leading prosecutor in Calabria, said.

Human rights group Antigone said more than 2,500 prisoners had been released since February 29 to ease overcrowding.

"People linked to the 'Ndrangheta have already been released and put under house arrest," he said.

"That presents a real danger."

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