Page last updated at 11:18 GMT, Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Mafia 'boosted' by credit crisis

An Italian paratrooper patrols a street near Caserta, southern Italy (October 2008)
Italy's government has deployed paratroopers to help tackle the mafia

The Italian mafia, the country's organised crime network, is making a profit out of the global economic downturn, a new report suggests.

Small business grouping, Confesercenti, says the mafia has a combined turnover of some 130bn euro (106bn) a year - 6% of the country's GDP.

It says the credit crunch has forced about 180,000 hard-up businessmen to turn to ruthless mafia money-lenders.

Mafia bosses are also investing in well-known Italian companies, it says.

The Confesercenti, a group of 270,000 businesses, says illegal drugs and people smuggling still top the mafia's earnings list, but its bosses are also exploring new business opportunities thrown up by the gloomy global economic climate.

[The mafia's] huge financial resources allow it to carve out new chunks of the market, to profit from the lack of liquidity, to acquire real estate and businesses
Confesercenti's chief Marco Venturi

"Unlike other businesses, the mafia has been little affected by the international economic and financial crisis," the report said.

That fact makes the mafia "even more dangerous", said Confesercenti's chief Marco Venturi.

The mafia's "huge financial resources allow it to carve out new chunks of the market, to profit from the lack of liquidity to acquire real estate and businesses," the report said.

Mr Venturi urged banks and the government to provide credit so that desperate business owners did not have to turn to loan sharks.

He also highlighted that Italian shopkeepers pay about 250m euros a day to Mafia protection rackets.

The BBC's Mark Duff in Milan says organised crime is expanding geographically from its roots in the southern regions of Sicily, Naples, Calabria and Puglia.

Milan - which once prided itself on being Italy's "moral capital" - is now home-from-home for the gangsters of Calabria's 'Ndrangheta, one of the toughest of all Italy's mafia gangs, our correspondent says.

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