March 12, 2015 / 3:18 PM / 3 years ago

Police seize Rome restaurants seen as tasty investment for mafia

ROME (Reuters) - Police sequestered two restaurants in Rome’s historic center on Thursday on suspicion they were owned by the mafia, which has increasingly used the city’s prime locations to invest money from drug trafficking and other organized crime.

The La Rotonda and Er Faciolaro restaurants, located between the Trevi Fountain and ancient Rome’s Pantheon, are estimated to be worth 10 million euros ($10.6 million), police said.

The owner of both well-known restaurants popular with tourists was arrested on suspicion that he was a front for the mob.

Up-market restaurants and bars in central Rome have become increasingly attractive investments for crime clans seeking to launder money, especially as legitimate business owners have struggled to stay afloat during a six-year-long economic slump

“The mafia is exploiting the economic crisis to make large-scale, insidious attempts to penetrate the legal economy,” agriculture trade group Coldiretti said in a statement on Thursday’s police swoop.

Organized crime gangs own some 5,000 restaurants across Italy, Coldiretti estimates, and mafia gangs earn 15 billion euros annually from the food industry, including growing, packaging and distributing agricultural produce as well as catering.

Last year police sequestered 27 coffee bars and pizzerias in Rome, including “Pizza Ciro”, one of the city’s most popular chains, that had been bought by a Naples crime clan with profits from drug sales, extortion and loan sharking.

In 2009, Rome’s swanky Cafe de Paris, which inspired scenes in Federico Fellini’s 1960 film “La Dolce Vita,” was also put under court administration after investigators discovered links to organized crime.

Mafia groups have found fertile ground to launder money in a number of commercial ventures. In recent years they have also invested massively in slot machines, often situated in the country’s ubiquitous coffee bars.

Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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