Page last updated at 08:13 GMT, Tuesday, 2 September 2008 09:13 UK

Italy's dead man walking

By Annalisa Piras
Presenter, The Italian Patient, BBC Radio 4

Roberto Saviano
In hiding: author Roberto Saviano

"My life is not a life. Today and every day I live in a wooden coat, a coffin. That's the Camorra term for dead man walking".

Journalist and author Roberto Saviano spectacularly blew the lid on the Naples Camorra in his acclaimed book Gomorrah.

Revealing 20 years of a seemingly unstoppable rise in the criminal activities of the Campania region mafia, the book has sold over two million copies worldwide.

As a consequence, Roberto Saviano is a wanted man, and is now living in hiding, under constant threat of execution. His only daily human contact is with the Carabineri (police) who protect him 24 hours a day in a secret military barracks.

Having written so frankly about a topic which is viewed as something of an unpalatable truth in Italy, Saviano is held in disdain by some sections of the Italian public, who have frowned upon his revelations, citing them as unpatriotic.

Today, 29-year-old Mr Saviano can only talk with the outside world by telephone. This is not easy for a man who made it his life mission to investigate and speak out on the criminal behaviour he witnessed first hand, growing up in Naples.

Mr Saviano says his story is vital, for the ever more organised Camorra prospers on silence. To ignore their activities is not only perilous for Italy, but for Europe and the rest of the world.

The mafia in Britain

"Even in Britain, there is massive investment by the Camorra clan in Scotland, and the Calabria 'ndrangheta mafia in London, as documented by Italian investigations," Mr Saviano says.

"Today, the two most dangerous Italian criminal organizations are the Campania Camorra and the Calabria 'ndrangheta, " he adds.

iano's controverisal book Gomorrah
Saviano's book has sold more than two million copies.

"They are smaller and more agile than the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, and crucially they are not as well-known. I would define them as criminal, violent businessmen. They started as entrepreneurs and became criminal as a way to maximise their profits."

"They work in toxic waste management, textiles, transport, building construction, cocaine trafficking, extortion, and racketeering. They run these criminal activities parallel to some legal enterprises."

"Increasingly, they work together with Chinese traders. They like to protect their own interests, but they have been very good at taking advantage of globalisation to invest in the rest of the world."

The main subject of Saviano's investigation is the Camorra, which he describes as "a global organisation, who will ruthlessly kill those who are not on side. They are creeping into states all over Europe and the world".

One Camorra gang set up clothing stores and warehouses in Germany, Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Finland and Serbia, to name a few places. They sold millions of knock-off designer jeans in the malls of New York.

Paying the price

Roberto Saviano infiltrated the Camorra by working in one of the mafia-linked Chinese textile factories. He also worked for one of the organisation's construction firms, and was even a waiter at a Camorra wedding.

Fascinated by how they were able to operate so blatantly outside the law, he decided to write about it, and tell the world. Consequently, like Salman Rushdie in the 1980's, he has had a death sentence imposed upon him that will never be lifted.

It is a terror strategy: we control the territory and if you do not respect us, you die
Author, Roberto Saviano

Mr Rushdie has recently asked to meet Mr Saviano to express his solidarity.

However, it is not the threat to his own life that worries Roberto, but the ongoing killing of innocent people in Campania, his homeland. This is the life Mr Saviano witnessed as a teenager.

Taking a stand

He saw his first murder when he was 13, on his way to school. Today, he tells me, nothing has changed.

"Every month they kill someone, innocent guys, people who are not big guns, really. But they dared to talk, and are hit in order to send a message to the rest. It is a terror strategy: we control the territory and if you do not respect us, you die."

Still, Mr Saviano says this will not stop if he is the only one to take a stand.

"It is a great burden, because if I am the only one doing it then I become routine. I'm just that guy who always rants about the Camorra, and that cannot be."

Mr Saviano says he feels great sadness that many young people in his region only have two choices to survive: "They leave their homeland or become blind, turning the other cheek."

He estimates that since he was born 29 years ago, 3,600 people have been killed by the Camorra.

For him, the way the Camorra has been able to infiltrate Italy's political institutions is what makes it so difficult to fight it.

Mr Saviano explained how the Camorra business men - known as the "white collars" - have managed to build an empire in toxic waste disposal.

They presented themselves as squeaky clean entrepreneurs who could offer companies in Italy and the rest of Europe unbeatable deals to remove their toxic waste.

"Nobody asked too many questions, and the poisonous waste was buried in the Campania region, where cancer rates happen to be on the rise, according to medical journal, The Lancet," he explains.

However, Roberto Saviano does not envisage the problem being solved anytime soon and, as a consequence, the people of Naples continue to fear for their safety.

"I do not see the radical solutions that are needed. What has terrified Naples citizens and driven them to build barricades next to the landfills is the fear of the toxic waste. Naples and the entire region has been invaded by toxic waste from all over the world, managed by organised crime."

It is reckoned that the official turnover of the three main mafias - the Sicilian mafia, Neapolitan Camorra and the Calabria 'ndrangheta - is at least 100bn euros ($145bn; 81bn) per year.

"You cannot fight these giants with the poor village Carabinieri police officers," Mr Saviano says.

"The police die and they fight with their hearts, but it is like asking traffic wardens to fight a full-scale war against massive multinationals. The world must wake up to this threat and stop seeing it only as an Italian crime problem.

"The Camorra is an economic problem first and foremost. It should be fought on the ground they fear most - the economic one. The solution is to burn the land from under their feet.

"The Mob condemned me to death because I shone the light on their economic activities. My life is hell. But I do not regret it for a minute. It is only if we are not intimidated into silence that there is a chance to stop them."

Annalisa Piras is the London correspondent for L'Espresso magazine and LA7 TV. The Italian Patient was first broadcast on Tuesday September 2nd at 2002 BST, on BBC Radio 4.

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