*Mafia digs in as Italy's biggest 'company'
*Mob thrives on credit crunch, unemployment
*May target bourse to launder profits
By Stephen Brown and Paolo Biondi
ROME Jan 27 Italy's mafia crime syndicates
bucked the recession in 2009 to raise 'profits' by almost 8
percent with the financial crisis making companies and even the
stock market even more vulnerable to cash-flush mobsters.
"Mafia Inc. is reinforcing its position as the number one
Italian company," said a report published on Wednesday by a body
whose members bear the brunt of mafia extortion and crimes, the
small business and shopkeepers' association Confesercenti.
It estimated that the impact on business equalled about 7
percent of Italy's economic output, enjoying healthy growth in a
year when the Italian economy shrank by almost 5 percent.
Experts had predicted when the crisis began that Calabria's
'Ndrangheta, with its huge slice of the global drugs trade,
Sicily's Cosa Nostra, Naples' violent Camorra and Puglia's Sacra
Corona Unita would see more demand for loan-sharking.
But the report said mobsters had also been able to launder
their earnings by buying up cheap assets and had found a cheap
and willing workforce among the newly unemployed.
"In times of crisis the Mafia's money, even though it is
dirty, makes people's mouth water," the report says.
Confeserscenti's research arm SOS Impresa, citing data from
police, mob informants, magistrates, government agencies and its
own network across the country, said the boom had been so strong
that organised crime may target the bourse to launder its money.
"There is a risk the Mafia could take advantage of the
difficulties of some large business groups who are undergoing a
liquidity crisis to attempt to get into the stock market behind
the scenes in a big way," said the report.
MOB "SHOPPING SPREE"
It estimated the mob's joint turnover last year at 135
billion euros, topped by trafficking in drugs, people, weapons
and contraband worth just under 68 billion euros. Second came
"business" interests like public contracts, gambling, forgeries
and supplying illegal labour at 25 billion euros, then extortion
and loan sharking at 25 billion euros.
Robbery and fraud represented just 1 billion euros of the
total business and prostitution brought in 600 million, said SOS
Impresa. The mob laid out 1.17 billion in wages and 2.75 billion
on corrupting officials, invested 26 billion and laundered an
estimated 19.5 billion, the researchers said.
Total "profits" ran to an estimated 78 billion euros,
SOS Impresa said there was a risk that with the prices of
property, stocks and bonds and companies themselves brought down
by the crisis, mobsters could use profits from recession-proof
activities like drugs to "go on a financial shopping spree".
The group portrayed an increasingly sophisticated business
environment, with mobsters diversifying away from traditional
areas like public contracts, property and construction.
While the mob is still essentially clan-based, in Sicily
there was "a sort of criminal career" where a bodyguard could
become a godfather, and in the slums of Naples the child drug
runners known as "muschilli" grow up in gangs where "pushing is
considered a real job giving them independent economic status".
(Writing by Stephen Brown; Editing by Ralph Boulton)