Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Silvio Berlusconi's allies 'helping mafia spread across Italy'

Mr Saviano, who has been under 24-hour police guard since writing a book on the mob, said the ‘Ndrangheta mafia were courting the Northern League, a powerful ally of the prime minister and a member of his conservative coalition.

Mr Saviano alleged that the ‘Ndrangheta had expanded far outside its traditional power base in the southern Calabria region and had infiltrated Italy’s rich northern Lombardy region, including Milan, Italy's business and fashion capital.

“In the north, as in the south, ‘Ndrangheta seeks out political power and in the north it courts the League,” Mr Saviano said on a national television programme watched by nine million Italians on Monday night.

He cited judicial investigations into links between the ‘Ndrangheta and the Right-wing anti-immigration party, as well as the example of a League councillor who was filmed meeting a businessman with alleged links to the Calabrian mob.

His claims were also backed up by the release on Wednesday of a report by a parliamentary anti-mafia committee, which concluded that the ’Ndrangheta’s presence in northern Italy was in “constant, progressive development” and that the criminal organisation “interacts” with business interests in Lombardy.

The ‘Ndrangheta is suspected of laundering money earned from illegal activities such as drug trafficking, prostitution and toxic waste dumping by investing in legitimate businesses such as construction and public works contracts in the affluent north, the heartland of the League.

Mr Saviano’s on-air claims infuriated Roberto Maroni, the interior minister and a heavyweight in the Northern League, who said they were potentially defamatory and demanded a right of reply on the same television programme.

“As a minister and a member of the League I feel offended and outraged by Roberto Saviano’s slanderous words, which were fuelled by evident prejudice against the League,” he said.

“I would like a face-to-face meeting with him to see if he has the courage to say those things while looking me in the eye.”

The battle of words intensified further when Mr Saviano compared the minister’s challenge to threats that had once been made to him by the lawyer of a notorious Mafioso, Francesco “Sandokan” Schiavone.

“I’m amazed and alarmed by the minister’s words,” he said.

Mr Saviano’s 2006 book Gomorrah, a play on the name of the Naples-based Camorra mafia, became an international best-seller and was later turned into an award-winning film.

The government has arrested several top mafia leaders and seized millions of pounds’ worth of assets over the last two years, actions which Mr Maroni has hailed as evidence of its determination to crush organised crime.

The latest blow to be struck was on Wednesday, when anti-mafia police arrested Antonio Iovine, 46, one of the most powerful leaders of the Camorra, after they found him hiding in a wall cavity in a house in the town of Casal di Principe.

Mr Maroni said he had set up a special commission to keep track of any attempts by the mafia to muscle in on contracts for the 2015 Milan Expo.

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