February 24, 2015 / 7:04 PM / in 3 years

Cocaine sales in downturn turn Italy mafia into powerhouse: report

ROME (Reuters) - The Calabrian mafia’s role as one of Europe’s biggest importers of South American cocaine has made it the most powerful economic force in its poor home region in southern Italy, a report released on Tuesday said.

Direct ties to Mexican and Colombian cocaine cartels, with which it has built trust over the years, have made the ‘Ndrangheta a financial powerhouse, said Italy’s national anti-mafia prosecutors’ office in its annual report.

Both within Italy and in countries like Germany and Holland, “the ‘Ndrangheta has no rivals and, for this reason ... because of its hegemony in drugs trafficking, it has become, against a depressed economic backdrop, the only financially significant player in Calabria and beyond,” the report said.

Though the network has a well-earned reputation for brutality and violence, the ‘Ndrangheta’s real power is economic, said the report, based on mafia investigations and trials conducted between mid-2013 and mid-2014.

During the current economic slump, which began halfway through 2011, the Calabrian mafia has spread its influence north to cities including Rome, Milan and Bologna, often using its wealth to buy political influence.

“The ‘Ndrangheta has not only been able to penetrate the north’s construction sector ... but it has become one of the most important operators in the whole sector,” the report said.

Companies “capitalized by the ‘Ndrangheta” over time became “front runners in the different sectors where they operate”, which include legal gambling, trucking, and the restaurant and hotel trade.

The ‘Ndrangheta, Sicily’s Cosa Nostra and the Camorra around Naples have long plagued Italy’s south, but recent investigations have shown their influence spreading, which is terrible news for the economy, the euro zone’s third biggest.

Calabria, in the southern toe of Italy, is one of Europe’s poorest regions, with an unemployment rate of more than 20 percent, and the oppressive presence of organized crime is one of the reasons for its decrepit state.

A 2012 Bank of Italy study shows that the economies of two southern regions, Puglia and Basilicata, where there was virtually no organized crime until about four decades ago, were crippled when mafia groups moved in.

The mob’s growing presence hacked an estimated 16 percentage points off per capita GDP in those regions over three decades, the study said.

Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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