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How Italy plans to stop mafia preying on Covid-hit businesses

Italy has stepped up measures to stop mafia infiltration into companies now struggling financially due to coronavirus, and to stop crime groups siphoning funds meant for crisis relief.

How Italy plans to stop mafia preying on Covid-hit businesses
A charity food bank in Italy, where poverty has worsened following the coronavirus shutdown - and mafia stand to profit. Photo: AFP

Officials have issued an average of 150 “anti-mafia bans” each month so far this year; measures that prevent a company from entering into contracts with

public administration, Italy's La Repubblica newspaper reported.
 
The figure was a 25 percent rise on last year, according to the paper.
 
The efforts are part of a broader attempt to keep European Union recovery funds out of the hands of criminal groups, a risk Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese warned of earlier this year as the pandemic began to bite.
 
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Police are investigating about 3,000 cases of alleged fraud involving funds intended to help those hit by the pandemic and subsequent shutdown, Il Sole 24 Ore said.
 
The southern regions of Campania, Sicily and Calabria, where the three most powerful mafias originate, have been the primary focus of the bans.
 
But Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna in northern and central Italy have also accounted for a substantial number, underscoring the national – as well as international – reach of organised crime groups.
 
 
The groups have been offering loans or buying out companies that hit dire financial difficulties after Italy imposed a more than two-month lockdown in
March.
 
“The mafia's movements, in this period, focus more than ever on financing, acquisitions and infiltration into companies,” national anti-mafia prosecutor
Cafiero De Raho told Il Sole 24 Ore.
 
 
“We are checking, for example, for what we define as 'inconsistent' investments, looking at volumes (of funds transferred), subjects and destinations.”
 
The most affected sectors are restaurants, hotels, food production, supermarkets and construction, in addition to private companies in the health sector.
 
Each group has their own preferences.
 
While the Camorra mafia from Campania has been sourcing masks and Sicily's Cosa Nostra sanitation equipment, Calabria's 'Ndrangheta has targeted public
construction including health care projects, La Repubblica reported.
 
 
A total of 1,400 bans have been issued in 2020 with the rate rising in the last four months, when government aid began to reach companies, the paper
wrote. 
 
Police have also reportedly seen a sharp increase in cases of mafia lending to the unemployed and poorest sections of the population.

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CRIME

New York returns millions worth of stolen art to Italy

Prosecutors in New York on Tuesday returned dozens of antiquities stolen from Italy and valued at around $19 million, some of which were found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

New York returns millions worth of stolen art to Italy

“These 58 pieces represent thousands of years of rich history, yet traffickers throughout Italy utilized looters to steal these items and to line their own pockets,” said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, noting that it was the third such repatriation in nine months.

“For far too long, they have sat in museums, homes, and galleries that had no rightful claim to their ownership,” he said at a ceremony attended by Italian diplomats and law enforcement officials.

The stolen items had been sold to Michael Steinhardt, one of the world’s leading collectors of ancient art, the DA’s office said, adding that he had been slapped with a “first-of-its-kind lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities.”

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Among the recovered treasures, which in some cases were sold to “unwitting collectors and museums,” were a marble head of the Greek goddess Athena from 200 B.C.E. and a drinking cup dating back to 470 B.C.E, officials said.

The pieces were stolen at the behest of four men who “all led highly lucrative criminal enterprises – often in competition with one another – where they would use local looters to raid archaeological sites throughout Italy, many of which were insufficiently guarded,” the DA’s office said.

One of them, Pasquale Camera, was “a regional crime boss who organized thefts from museums and churches as early as the 1960s. He then began purchasing stolen artifacts from local looters and sold them to antiquities dealers,” it added.

It said that this year alone, the DA’s office has “returned nearly 300 antiquities valued at over $66 million to 12 countries.”

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