Rome knocks down flashy mafia villas

Police on Wednesday began bulldozing eight villas built illegally in a suburb of Rome by an alleged mafia clan renowned for its violence and gaudy lifestyle, as those evicted cried foul.

Rome knocks down flashy mafia villas
Police supervise the demolition of the Casamonica clan's villas. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

As the walls toppled there were shouts of fury from members of the Casamonica, which has ethnic Sinti roots and reportedly runs drugs, fraud and extortion rings in Rome.

“Today the demolition has begun of the first two villas,” said Mayor Virginia Raggi, as police removed the last bits of furniture from the opulent houses, decorated with gold-plated animal statues, chandeliers and imitation frescoes.

“All eight villas will be knocked down. We will not stop until we have returned this territory to the citizens of Rome,” she said.

A velvet throne and animal statues discovered inside one of the villas. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

The illegal villas in the Quadraro neighbourhood incorporated whole sections of the historic Acqua Felice Aqueduct.

Over 600 police officers evicted around 30 people from the villas in a dawn raid on Tuesday in a coup for Raggi, who has been repeatedly blamed for Rome's degradation.

'King of Rome'

Mothers carrying young children on Wednesday asked to be allowed back into their homes to get basic necessities like food and medicines, according to an AFP video journalist.

Some residents sat on the ground with their heads in their hands as the bulldozers got to work, while others shouted that they were being persecuted like the Jews under Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

Bulldozers moved in to flatten the villas. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

The Casamonica clan was one of the alleged crime networks accused of infiltrating the city's government and influencing politicians in a large-scale corruption investigation in 2015.

The clan hit the headlines the same year for the showy send-off laid on in the capital for boss Vittorio Casamonica, whose coffin was drawn through the streets of Rome in a gilded horse-drawn carriage as roses petals were dropped from a helicopter. Posters outside the church in the east of the city declared him the “King of Rome”, while mourners were greeted with music from the film The Godfather.

READ ALSO: Outcry as mafia boss given lavish send-off

The demolitions were hailed by Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, whose hard-right League is vehemently anti-immigrant and who has courted controversy with his plans to carry out a census of Italy's Roma population.

“I'm not going to stop until we've knocked down every last villa belonging to these damn people,” he said.

Officers search a nursery in one of the villas. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Those evicted claimed they had been given no warning and had nowhere to take their children. A lawyer for the Casamonicas told Italian media he would be challenging the demolition order.

Footage of Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte touring one of the seized villas — complete with golden pillars and throne — prompted ire from the opposition, who called on him Wednesday to get back to running the country. 


By AFP's Giovanni Grezzi and Ella Ide


Body of missing American tourist found in Rome’s River Tiber

The body of a missing 21-year-old tourist was found in the River Tiber on Thursday morning, according to media reports.

Body of missing American tourist found in Rome's River Tiber

Elijah Oliphant, from Dallas, Texas, was on holiday with his family in Rome when he went missing several days ago.

Oliphant’s parents reported his disappearance after he left his hotel room shortly after midnight on May 24th and did not return.

Hotel security footage showed him leaving the premises wearing a white undershirt and pyjama bottoms, which he was wearing when he was found.

Oliphant’s corpse was reportedly spotted by passersby near the Ponte Sisto bridge in Rome’s Trastevere district around 10am on Thursday morning. His body was positively identified by his parents.

Members of the fire brigade and river police who recovered the body say there were no obvious signs of violence, but an autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death. Trastevere police are reportedly investigating the matter.

The Oliphant family had arrived in Rome for a holiday on May 23rd. When Elijah went missing the following day, his parents launched an urgent appeal to help find their son.

His disappearance was featured on the missing persons television show, Chi l’ha visto (‘Who’s seen them?’) on May 25th.

Several foreigners have been found drowned in the Tiber in recent years, though there are no indication that any of the incidents are linked.

In 2016, the body of 19-year-old American student Beau Solomon was recovered from the river.

Rough sleeper Massimo Galioto was charged involuntary manslaughter in the case, but was ultimately acquitted in 2020.

Prosecutors said that Galioto pushed Solomon in the course of a violent argument. Galioto’s defense team acknowledged that the two had argued but said the student had accidentally slipped.

In May 2019, 37-year-old Imen Chatbouri, a former athletics champion from Tunisia, was found dead in the Tiber after a night out. CCTV footage later showed she had been pushed from the Ponte Sisto bridge.

A then-26-year-old man whose advances she had rejected earlier that evening was convicted of her murder in November 2021.