Italian police have learned how to fight the Mafia so successfully, that organised crime is moving out of Italy into the rest of Europe where authorities are less prepared to deal with it, writes Patrick J O Brien 

At the international level, the perception of the public about the Italian Mafias is mostly based on stereotypes and clichés. Decades of Mafia movies like The Godfather, TV series The Sopranos and media reports like the famous Der Spiegel cover with a gun on a spaghetti dish, have contributed to a rather stereotyped image, focusing on folkloristic characteristics based on the Mediterranean sense of honour, family, religion and blood.

Obviously, these aspects are not completely fictional and are possibly the ones which attract most of the foreign attention and curiosity about the Mafias. However, the reality is much more complex than a few uneducated mafiosi gathering around a laden table to discuss murders and control of the underworld. The Mafias have become an important component of the informal power structure of Europe and as such they have a historically deep connection with the economy and the political system

Last year, Europol set up a specific operational network focusing on Italian Mafia activities abroad, with the Italian anti-Mafia police playing a leading role. This was an important step in the fight against Italian organised crime but Italian law enforcement agencies success has force Italian mafiosi and their money abroad to neighbouring countries

Ultimately, there is a lack of understanding across Europe about what Mafia membership crime looks like which can be |difficult if you have not witnessed first-hand the power of Mafia, and how it imposes itself on society, economics and politics. Members of the Italian Mafia like to travel abroad not necessarily for pleasure, but to make money. And the harm they are doing to European economies like Malta is often underplayed or ignored. Malta has witnessed over 17 Mafia- style incidents and killings in the last 10 years. 2018 saw the arrest in Malta of fugitive Antonio Ricci, who escaped a crackdown on an illegal gaming racket linked with ’Ndrangheta, the Calabrian Mafia. The 43-year-old fugitive has been accused of having direct links with the ’Ndrangheta. Among the charges are Mafia association, illegal gaming and gambling practices, failure to declare income and aggravated fraud against the State for more than €60 million.

Italian authorities also confiscated the assets of four companies in Malta owned by Benedetto Bacchi, who is presently under arrest on charges of Mafia involvement. The Sicilian national, nicknamed ‘Nini’, has been under arrest since February of 2018. Bacchi has a €6-million patrimony, the majority of which, according to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, are in four companies in Malta. Investigators believe the Mafia group’s monies were being moved through these companies.

Organised crime in Europe is one of the crucial security challenges of our time. The authorities estimate the economic damage inflicted in many countries to be billions. Criminal organisations basically do everything that allows them to make money. And they probably make quite good money with human and drug trade. The criminals are also keeping busy on the internet, notching up more and more experience. Seventy per cent of these organisations are operating in more than three states at once. Ten per cent are active in more than seven, according to Europol’s most recent report on the subject. A transnational problem, then. They are good at exploiting business opportunities away from home. Companies set up for money laundering purposes distort European economies because their constant cash flow gives them an unfair advantage in the marketplace

Drugs, from street dealing to international trafficking on a major scale, are at the core of all the Italian Mafias’ activities. But their tentacles also stretch into supermarkets, restaurants and bars, construction, farming and all forms of food production, sport, people trafficking and refuse management. They consider Malta to be an attractive destination because it is relatively easy to set up a company, and its legal system does not recognise ‘Mafia membership’ as such as a crime

The infiltration of numerous Mafia organisations into Europe is polluting rising economies. Organised criminals favour the weakness of State institutions, as demonstrated by the international measures of corruption and are making moves into countries where bickering political parties are silenced and where they can work unnoticed. In this perspective, strengthening the rule of law and improving the quality of European governance may not only support economic growth, one of the current priorities particularly in Europe, but also prevent Mafia infiltration continuing.