There’s a vineyard on the gentle slopes of the Corleone hills outside Palermo that produces fine organic wines to wash away the taste of the blood in the soil the vines are cultivated from.

Those wines are known as Cento Passi, 100 steps, the short distance between greed, wrath and other deadly sins and doing things in the light of the law and with a sense of community.

Those acres used to belong to mafiosi who acquired the land, sometimes directly, sometimes using frontmen, with money they made from their unlawful monopolies and rackets. The specific former owners shall remain unnamed because the bloodcurdling brutality of their actions is a story that has been told to a point of morbid fascination as if they were barely real but fantastical fictional monsters.

The story to be told instead is that the wonderful hillsides of Corleone, the closest place my poorly travelled eyes have seen to what I fancy paradise must look like, produce wines, honey and grains fit for gods. And the greatest products can be made without resorting to cheating, threatening and bribing.

Centopassi is a tribute. It refers to the apocryphal distance between the home in Cinisi, near Palermo, of one Peppino Impastato, a 30-year-old anti-mafia satirist, and the house where his relative and local mafia boss lived.

Apocryphal because that distance was the set of the poe­tic film I cento passi (2000) by Marco Tullio Gioradana, which tells the story of how Peppino denounced the local mafioso by mocking him on the local radio, bursting the aura of importance that the boss secured through coercion and intimidation.

A mafioso’s power is severely challenged if they are no longer feared. ‘Respected’ is how they would put it.

Peppino mocked the boss until the boss had had enough and had Peppino killed.

On the hills of nearby Corleone, hard-working activists who are passionate about justice, honour the memory of the victims of the mafia, cultivating the land that used to belong to the mafiosi and running a business without monetary profit.

The model exploits the idea that has been mainstream in Italy since 1996 of taking away buildings and land suspected of being in the possession of mafiosi as a result of the gains from their crimes. Italy does not wait for convictions to requisition property. Nor does it wait for sufficient evidence to prove the connection between mafiosi and the frontmen who on paper own the properties.

While mafiosi await a definitive verdict and exhaust their rights for appeal, their pro­perties are assigned, temporarily at first, to social enterprises, not-for-profit business activities giving work and pride to the dispossessed people who directly or indirectly live poorer lives because of all the wealth accumulated by organised criminals. The allocation to social entrepreneurs becomes permanent when convictions become definitive.

We do have laws empowering the state to seize assets belonging to criminals, but these are never put to good use- Manuel Delia

The burden of proving legitimate ownership is on the frontmen, not on the state, and, as is likely, they never bother to try.

There’s no reason why the restaurants and the hotels mafiosi use as money laundering fronts should be shut down, forcing their innocent employees to lose their jobs. There’s no reason why the rolling hills of agricultural land should be allowed to go to seed. There’s no reason why the safe houses where mafiosi whispered deals should be left abandoned while poor people and migrants are forced to live in stables.

It is not enough to send organised criminals to prison. That is some justice but not all. It is not even enough to take away from them the proceeds of their crimes. That is some justice but not all. Transferring those illicit proceeds to innocent people who can use those assets for the benefit of society goes some way towards a social justice, towards evening the imbalance caused by the greed of criminals.

Here in Malta, we do have laws empowering the state to seize assets belonging to criminals, imposed on us by EU standards, but these are never put to good use. Some dispute the competence of the Maltese authorities in what is euphemistically called asset recovery, where close to nothing is ever recovered at all. This is not about competence but about willingness.

Yorgen Fenech, whom the state believes, but has yet to prove at trial, ordered the murder of a journalist, is still in possession of his assets.

No one in Malta has moved to take away from him the Portomaso complex, the Hilton Hotel, the Mrieħel towers or even his ranch and stables where he plotted with police bosses and politicians or, at least, the portion of those assets that was funded by profits from any unlawful activities. He still owns his share of a power station and a water-tight public contract connected to it, which the state believes he bribed to acquire and murdered to keep.

How can we speak of a social reuse of seized mafiosi assets in a country that allows mafiosi, or suspected ones, to profit from their assets even while in jail awaiting trial?

And then think of excellent Calabrian and Sicilian restaurants that are dotted around Sliema and St Julian’s and which may be fronting for shady operations.

Think also of the warehouses used by gaming companies that quietly switched off their operations when Italy seized their money on suspicion of mafia crime.

I don’t mean to present Sicily as being a utopia that has resolved all its issues. Decades of neglect, infrastructural collapse, pervasive corruption and the complicity of an amoral political class is fertile ground for younger mafiosi quick to find alternatives to the seized fields of Corleone.

And, yet, even an average Sicilian, even perhaps a white-collar criminal seeped in mafiosità, would be amazed to learn that in Malta we like our mafiosi so much we let them enjoy, for the rest of their lives, in and out of prison, the fruits of their bloody labour.

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