UK to come under scrutiny in Italy’s biggest mafia trial in decades | Italy


In a high-security courtroom with a capacity of 1,000 people converted from a call center, Italy‘s largest mafia trial in three decades is underway in Lamezia Terme, Calabria. Around 900 witnesses are expected to testify against more than 350 defendants, including politicians and officials accused of being members of the ‘Ndrangheta, Italy’s most powerful criminal group.

Several of the defendants will be called upon to respond to charges of money laundering on the establishment of companies in the UK with the alleged aim of simulating legitimate economic activity.

“The interests of the Ndrangheta in the United Kingdom have occupied a preponderant place, the clans having used the country as a base for investment and money laundering,” said Nicola Gratteri, the prosecutor whose investigation resulted in the maxi -trial.

The ‘Ndrangheta – based in the southern region of Calabria, the tip of the Italian boot – is said to be one of the richest and most feared criminal organizations in the world. A 2013 study by the Demoskopita Research Institute estimated its financial strength to be greater than that of Deutsche Bank and McDonald’s combined, with annual revenue of € 53 billion (£ 44 billion).

Investigators say the secret to its success lies in its ability to connect the underworld with the upper world, where often the “upper world” represents London. Over the past decade, hundreds of investigations have shown how the ‘Ndrangheta laundered billions of euros in the city.

A 2019 report from Italy’s Anti-Mafia Investigations Directorate claimed that criminal organizations launder billions of pounds each year through UK banks. Investigations between 2018 and 2020 in Reggio Calabria claimed how bosses of the Nirta clan had entrusted the management of their profits to a man who officially sold tiles, but who was described by investigators as some sort of “alchemist” capable of establishing shield societies in Croatia. , Slovenia, Austria and Romania (he denied having done so). After a few years, all of these companies were systematically transferred to the UK and then closed.

Colonel Claudio Petrozziello of the Italian Guardia di Finanza, which monitors illicit capital flows, said that “the Ndrangheta clans in the UK have no interest in controlling local territory, just exploitation of the financial system.

“It’s not that there are no rules in London,” he said. “The problem is, the risk of Mafia infiltration is underestimated.”

The ‘Ndrangheta is often seen as archaic and almost hermit-like, with wanted members of the clan living in hiding places deep in the Calabrian mountains, and as such he may seem an unlikely candidate to exploit the modern city of London. . But it has an interest in perpetuating such myths: in reality, its origins are like a phenomenon of the middle class, which took advantage of the social capital system of the Masonic lodges to manage the profits generated by the international drug trafficking.

A woman walks past a view of the skyline of the City of London at sunrise in March. Photograph: Hollie Adams / Getty Images

The Grandmaster of the Grande Oriente d’Italia (GOI) Lodge, Giuliano di Bernardo, claimed in trials in 2014 and 2019 which linked the ‘Ndrangheta to terrorism that he had had a discussion with the Duke of Kent, the Grand Master of the United States Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), in the early 1990s following the infiltration of Italian lodges in the south of the country by criminal clans.

“It was the Duke of Kent who suggested that I quit GOI and create a new order,” he said. “I would like to stress that the Calabrian context was very worrying because Freemasonry was much more extensive and powerful there than in Sicily.

A spokesperson for the Duke said he “would never comment on vague sensationalist allegations based on conversations alleged over 30 years ago, suddenly made in a court case that so far was unknown.” UGLE said he had no comment to make on alleged criminal elements in a foreign constitution unrelated to it, but added: “It appears that some Italians could, certainly at that time, have significantly lost. “

In the minds of Italian investigators who have followed the illicit activities of the ‘Ndrangheta, a new problem is now looming: Brexit. The country’s magistrates and police officials have shared their concerns that “the Ndrangheta clans might try to profit from the UK’s exit from the European Union if, as they fear, police and judicial cooperation between the EU and the UK is proving less effective than when the two countries were in the bloc.

“With Brexit, things could get out of hand,” Gratteri said.

According to investigators and experts, the UK could also find itself fighting the ‘Ndrangheta clans without international legal support and assistance from Italian investigators.

“When the UK was part of the European Union, it benefited from efficient data sharing in the fight against organized crime,” Italy’s national anti-mafia prosecutor, Federico Cafiero De Raho, told The Guardian.

“Now that he has left the EU, problems will start to appear. London will not be absent, but things will change and even the best post-Brexit cooperation will be less effective than in the EU. Today’s mafias move between countries and continents, and where they find weaknesses in international cooperation, they exploit this opportunity.

Among the consequences of Brexit, the UK abandoned the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), a provision that allowed for swift extradition, as well as the European Investigation Order (EIO), which empowered countries to request a Member State to conduct an investigation, place wiretaps or follow a suspect.

“Italy and the UK will sign agreements to continue these efforts,” Cafiero said. “However, in practice, the collaboration will be different.”

“Imagine two investigators from two different EU member states looking for wiretapping from two different screens at the same time and while in two different countries,” Cafiero added. “Non-EU countries will find it more difficult to participate in such a team. “

This is a view the UK disputes, claiming its deal with the EU allows for extradition as effective as the EAW, bilateral information sharing, provisions to simplify asset forfeiture and full participation in investigation teams with EU Member States.

“The UK’s deal with the EU offers a comprehensive set of capabilities that ensure we can work with partners in Europe, including Italy, to tackle serious crime and terrorism – protect the public and bring criminals to justice, ”Kevin Foster, UK Minister for Future Borders and Immigration, said in a statement.

“It includes streamlined extradition provisions, continuous exchange of data for law enforcement purposes and provisions for close and effective cooperation with Europol and Eurojust. We are committed to working with European partners, including Italy, to counter the threats we all face, in Europe and beyond. The UK will continue to be a global security leader and one of the safest countries in the world. “

On Italian fears, Tim O’Sullivan, former Crown Attorney and Chairman of the European Bar Committee, said: “These concerns are certainly shared as at the moment there is still uncertainty over how the new arrangements will work. .

“EU mechanisms give law enforcement a legal basis on which to operate. [But] This does not mean that in the new cooperation agreement there are not the means to address these concerns.

In the meantime, to make matters worse, the Covid-19 and the financial crisis generated by the pandemic have amplified the risk that the ‘Ndrangheta could deepen its involvement in international markets.

Giuseppe Lombardo, the deputy prosecutor of Reggio Calabria, warned that “in a phase of very scarce global liquidity, the objective of the ‘Ndrangheta will be to create a banking system parallel to the legal system”, because all eyes are on the city. .

Federico Varese, professor of criminology at the University of Oxford, believes that Brexit is forcing the British government to rethink the fight against transnational organized crime.

“Criminals see borders as an opportunity and will make the most of it,” Varese said. “It’s just another Brexit price.”

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