Gabrielle Menotti Lebolis was threatened with death if he did not pay royalties, as was the case for many managers of companies in Italy who were often caught in the trap of criminals belonging to the mafia, a phenomenon that worsened with the outbreak of the emerging Corona virus (Covid-19).
It was not easy for Lebolis to testify, but he does so because he is “convinced that contractors should speak up when it happens, for the sake of companies and regions alike. We should not accept acts of violence or threats, but act in a way that shows that the state is the strongest. We can tackle the mafias. “
The 43-year-old Lebolis runs an entertainment company and is also involved in the tourism sector with restaurants and one of the largest “sea clubs” in Puglia (south)..
He was exposed to two blackmail attempts in 2013 and 2017 and was told, “Either you pay or we split you into two parts.”
“One of them came to me and asked for an amount of money. I did not reject the request at first so that I could go to the police station and file a complaint after half an hour. The security forces arrested the man and the authorities always stood by me. The matter is very important in critical times like this. I was thinking of me,” the businessman recounts. My family and my collaborators … because the threats were clear. “
Such blackmail attempts continue, and the merchants of Palermo in Sicily have rebelled against the royalties imposed by the local mafia known as “petsu”, which led to the arrest of 20 people last week..
However, the authorities fear that the pressure on companies will increase due to the Covid-19 epidemic.
“The lockdown measures have put many companies in a difficult or embarrassing situation,” says Ensu Chikonte, who has written several books on the mafia.
Most of the time, the mafia imposes fantastic interest on loans to contractors who are on the verge of bankruptcy and are unable to borrow from banks, and these benefits may exceed 500% at times. Soon, the pressure on them increases with the number of calls and visits they receive.
When tightening the screws on the contractor, “Of course the mafias can leave him at work but they seize his profits. It is a feasible strategy because it complicates police investigations,” says Entsu Chikonte..
The mafia that was originally formed in southern Italy now has a presence in all parts of the country, including the wealthy and industrialized northern part..
Chikonte says, “The men of the Ndrangheta (the powerful Calabrian mafia) are the most influential in Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Piedmont, where they have settled since the 1950s. In Veneto, the Ndrangheta and Camorra (the Napoli mafia) dominate. In Lazio (the region of Rome), the Ndrangheta mafia holds sway with influence. Limited to Camorra. On the other hand, the influence of the Sicilian mafia receded, “which paid dearly for the assassination of the two judges Falcon and Borsellino.”.
Engaging in corporate business may be a good way to launder money generated from drug trafficking and prostitution, and to reap more profits as well, by establishing private companies, for example. This risk increases with the infusion of billions of euros in the framework of the European recovery plan.
“The history of organized crime has taught us that the risk of” criminals’ penetration into public life “increases when the financial flows are large. We are certain that attempts will be carried out in this regard, and we are currently taking all measures. Necessary to avoid them. “
Among the indicators that investigators rely on in their investigations are “board composition, lineage relationships with individuals involved in organized crime, and suspicious transfer of ownership of shares or company headquarters,” according to Valentini..
The governor, like other regional officials, uses what are known as “ban measures directed against the mafia,” which are administrative procedures that allow companies to be excluded from contracts with the public administration (for example, for services, business, or the provision of goods)..
These measures help curb attempts by the mafia to penetrate companies.
More than 1,600 measures of this nature have been taken, according to figures collected by the Ministry of the Interior as of mid-October and obtained by AFP. This is a 25% increase in this type of measure compared to 2019, according to the newspaper “La Repubblica”.
“The sectors most affected are restaurants, bars, the construction sector, and health care,” Valentini explains, noting that “some companies are in a critical situation. It is important that the state not only support them but also create a network dedicated to them so that they do not resort to criminal groups. Contractors should also be daring. Those who are subjected to this type of harassment from suspicious people for reporting it. “
Reports appear to be increasing and developments in Palermo are evidence of this.
“The entrepreneurs realized that it is possible to eliminate the mafia system while standing by the state,” Ensu Chikonte points out.
This expert does not hide his confidence in the ability of the Italian authorities to confront the Mafia, but he expresses his deep concern about “the miscalculation of other European countries for this danger and their reluctance to adopt preventive measures” in the recovery plans..
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