Organised crime syndicates in Italy, i.e. the mafia, are now the “number one bank” in the country, claimed a report by anti-crime group SOS Impresa on Tuesday.
According to its report, SOS Impresa estimates that the mafia lends money to over 200,000 businesses every year, earning it an annual turnover of around 140 billion euros ($179 billion), with profits of more than 100 billion euros ($127 billion) every year and an overall liquidity of around 65 million euros ($83 million).
The mafia’s illicit operations, SOS Impresa says, could be equivalent to nearly 7 percent of the country’s total national output, thus making it “the largest economic agent in the country”.
The reports suggest that the extortionate lending being carried out by the mafia has now become a "national emergency" due to its links with administrative and political authorities, and the level of vice activities now generated from the profits that the mafia earn.
According to Conferscenti, a small business organisation that commissioned the report, the mafia affects up to 50 businesses every hour, causing the loss of “ten of thousands of jobs” and the closure of more than 1,800 businesses throughout the country each year.
Financially desperate business owners, who turn to the mafia for money due to increased lending requirements by banks, are then subjected to extortionist threats and are either forced to pay indiscriminate amount of interest or face attacks on their property and family, which have even led to murder.
"During this economic crisis, mafia organizations are the only businessmen able to invest," said Marco Venturi, president of Conferscenti.
"We should never forget that the economic crisis is useful for organized crime, which influences the legitimate economy and flood the illegal economy with both the production and sale of illegal goods," added Venturi.
The mafia’s lending operations have also become increasing organised and sophisticated. By hiring apparently respectable bankers, lawyers or notaries into their “business”, the mafia attempts to portray a façade of professionalism and decency, thus draw unwitting business owners in.
"The classic neighbourhood or street loan shark is on the way out, giving way to organised loan-sharking that is well connected with professional circles and operates with the connivance of high-level professionals," said the report, as translated by Reuters.
"This is extortion with a clean face," it added. "Through their professions, they know the mechanisms of the legal credit market and they often know the financial position of their victims perfectly."
Typical victims include middle-aged shopkeepers and small businessmen who are struggling to avoid bankruptcy in the midst of the nation’s economic crisis.
"They are usually people in traditional retail sectors like food, greengrocers, clothes or shoe shops, florists or furniture shops. These are the categories which, more than any other, are paying the price of the (economic) crisis," said the report.