Page last updated at 05:36 GMT, Friday, 21 November 2008

Breaking Camorra's 'silence code'

More and more Italians now seem to be willing to brave death threats and testify against the powerful Neapolitan-based mafia, the Camorra, the BBC's Pascale Harter says.

Silvana Fuscito
Silvana Fuscito says she has helped break the silence over the Camorra

Fifty-eight-year-old Silvana Fucito was terrified the first time a member of the Camorra came into her shop, put a gun on the counter and said "either you pay up or we'll kill you".

Yet this tiny woman, with her manicured nails and diamante hair clips, told her husband to step aside. She would deal with the Camorra.

She hoped they would show respect to a woman. Instead they threw a petrol bomb into her paint shop.

The collusion between politicians and criminal organisations represents the true strength of the Camorra and Mafia
Franco Roberti
Anti-mafia prosecuting judge

Her neighbours, who narrowly escaped with their lives, did not blame the Camorra - a criminal organisation with a multi-billion dollar turnover, considered more powerful today than the Sicilian Mafia.

Instead they blamed Silvana, for breaking the rules of what they call "the system".

Nonetheless, Silvana reported the crime, sending 15 senior Camorristi (Camorra members) to prison.

'Removing mask'

"At first people threw me out of their shops, they were so frightened just to be seen with me," says Silvana.

"But now they come to me for help. Today we break the silence, we speak about the Camorra."

Roberto Saviano, the author of Gomorrah book
Roberto Saviano now lives under a round-the-clock armed guard

The Camorra kills someone on average every three days, so I only have to stop a random person on the street to find someone who has witnessed a murder first hand and ask if they gave their testimony to the police.

"No, no, no," one woman tells me, "I would be afraid, no-one talks about this."

She tells me the murder she saw took place at nine in the morning in a crowded square, and no-one talked to the police.

But the chief anti-mafia prosecuting judge in Naples tells me he has seen a slight increase in the number of people willing to testify against the Camorra, especially since the publication of a best-selling book by a local boy called Roberto Saviano.

"The Camorra grows rich on silence," says Judge Franco Roberti.

"Since Saviano nobody in the world can say they don't know what the Camorra is. This is very important for the state, because it removes the mask of the Camorra, and by making it more recognisable it becomes more vulnerable."

'Dead by Christmas'

Roberto Saviano's book Gomorrah, a biblical wordplay on the hell the Camorra visits on the Campania region, has been made into a widely acclaimed film.

A Camorra boss' mansion to be turned into disabled rehab centre
The Camorra set fire to the mansion as soon as it was confiscated

It might have made business more difficult for the Camorra, but there could also be another reason why the bosses hate it so much they have vowed to kill Saviano "by Christmas".

It is glamour - not poverty - that sucks young people into working for the Camorra, local crime reporters tell me.

And it is this glamour that Giovanni Alluci is trying to chip away at. A local economist, he petitioned the government to let him make over houses confiscated from the Camorra bosses.

On a tour of one such mansion, complete with Romanesque pillars and jacuzzi, Giovanni tells me he is going to turn it into a rehabilitation centre for disabled people.

"The swimming pool will come in useful," he says.

The Camorra set fire to the mansion as soon as it was confiscated, but it is still recognisable as a copy of the boss's house from the film Scarface - testimony in bricks and mortar to the gangsters' fascination with their own image in the media and films.

Roberto Saviano says the Italian mafia love films about themselves, and Scarface is their favourite. Even though it is about a Cuban, it chimes with their sense of their own glamour.

'To live and let live'

Before the death threats, when he made book tours, Saviano says women would come up him and tell him what a "mafioso face" he had - as a compliment.

Cars seized from the Camorra
Cars seized from the Camorra hint at their 'glamorous' lifestyle

"That's when I understood," he says, "women from northern Europe, influenced by films, perceive mafia men exactly how mafia men want to be perceived - that's to say as real men, who risk their lives, who have money, who have balls.

"Its incredible to realise that the bosses want to be perceived that way," he says.

Gomorrah is unlikely to be among the DVD collections of the Camorra bosses.

In it, Saviano shows them as seedy businessmen bereft of the code of honour that so fascinates journalists and film directors.

But Gomorrah is also an indictment of the Italian government, which long ago reached an agreement with the country's mafias, to live and let live.

Camorra's 'streets'

On a night time patrol with the carabinieri, Italy's military police, we stop literally every few metres to make arrests.

But the carabinieri are only getting the drug buyers. They point out the Camorra youths, manning their homemade roadblocks at the entrance to the sprawling housing estates, and tell me if they were to go in, the locals would pelt them with bottles.

Further down the road, a known Camorra crack-making factory faces the military barracks across the road. The Camorra seems to shout "we own these streets".

Judge Franco says the Italian state has yet to make combating organised crime a priority.

"On the contrary," he says, "the collusion between politicians and criminal organisations represents the true strength of the Camorra and Mafia."

Perhaps the actions of ordinary Italians like Silvana Fucito and Roberto Saviano will shame their government into doing more, because in speaking out Roberto Saviano feels he has "lost everything, knowing that without doubt the Camorra will take their revenge."

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