* Manlio Cerroni dominated trash disposal in and around Rome
* Built up a fortune over 60 years in the business
* Now faces charges of fraud and breaking waste-treatment
* EU says 100 of 250 official Italian sites treat trash
* Police estimate a further 1,000 illegal garbage sites
By Massimiliano Di Giorgio
ROME, May 25 Italian businessman Manlio Cerroni
thinks a monument would be a fitting recognition of his services
to Rome. Instead, the 86-year-old, who spent 60 years building a
global empire and a personal fortune on trash, is facing trial
on a string of charges.
Italian prosecutors say Cerroni - "Il Supremo" to his aides
- oversaw a web of companies and individuals colluding to defend
his monopoly over trash disposal in and around the Italian
capital, including his Malagrotta landfill, Europe's largest,
which closed last year after European Union authorities ruled it
unfit to treat waste.
Cerroni's lawyer, Giorgio Martellino, says his client denies
all charges, which also include fraud and improper waste
treatment, but declined to be interviewed.
Several local politicians from the Lazio region, of which
Rome is the capital, are also due to stand trial for collusion.
Cerroni was earlier this year put under preventive detention
at home, but has since been released on bail, on condition he
doesn't set foot in Rome, his lawyer said.
While being questioned, he told prosecutors: "You should
build me a monument for everything I've done for this city,"
according to a judicial source familiar with the questioning.
The European Commission takes a dim view of Italy's waste
industry. It estimates that trash is treated and disposed of
unlawfully in 100 of Italy's 250 official waste-management
sites. Italian police estimate there are also 1,000 illegal
In and around the city of Naples, for example, the Camorra
organised crime group has since the 1990s taken over lucrative
waste-management contracts, dumping trash from all over the
country and other parts of Europe in unauthorised fields or
landfills, according to testimony and documents from various
legal cases. Industrial waste has often been illegally stored or
burned, releasing toxins that have contaminated much of the
Last month, an Italian police officer who had spent many
years in and around the so-called Land of the Fires - a vast
area south of Naples where toxic trash has long been dumped and
burned - died of a tumour that the Italian state officially
recognised was related to his work there.
Rome, Italy's biggest city, also has its trash problems.
Collection, treatment and disposal of its garbage has
largely been in the hands of a small group of private owners -
Cerroni and his associates - for decades, with public contracts
rarely opened to competition or new entrants.
There are not enough sites to treat and dispose of the 1.775
million tons of trash the city produces every year, even though
its residents pay among the highest trash-management taxes in
Some is shipped to northern Italy or Spain for treatment.
Fearing a build-up of trash in the streets of the capital,
the mayor of Rome recently ordered that Cerroni's treatment and
disposal sites continue to operate, even though prosecutors
wanted them closed during their investigation.
TRASH LIKE US
It was back in 1946, after getting a law degree, that
Cerroni first began his career in the unglamorous world of
garbage, at a small company that handled waste disposal,
including animal carcasses, according to his lawyer.
"In the 1950s and 60s, those of us who worked in the garbage
business had trouble even finding wives, because we were
considered trash ourselves," Cerroni said during a hearing
before Italy's parliament years ago. "Only when the
environmentalists came along did people say, 'Hey! these people
help our lives, too'."
In 1960, Rome handed management of the city's trash disposal
to four small private companies, including Cecchini & Co, owned
by Cerroni, according to a history of his business dealings that
is part of the prosecutors' arrest warrant. Cerroni eventually
took over all four companies.
First working alone, and later with his two daughters, he
gradually built up a business with revenues that media reports
estimate at 2 billion euros. His closely held companies do not
release financial figures.
Among his holdings are trash disposal companies or firms
that build machines to treat trash in Sydney, Oslo, Abu Dhabi
and Edmonton, according to a company website. In some cases, he
owns the companies outright, in others he holds stakes.
Cerroni's big break came in 1984 when the city of Rome
decided to make Malagrotta, Rome's main garbage dump, which
Cerroni had bought.
Businesses in which he is the main shareholder are still
partners in a consortium that runs the landfill and its
It was rewarding work - enough to buy a volleyball team, a
local television station and a villa in a leafy neighbourhood of
It also gave him access to politicians of all hues.
"I had relations with everyone; prime ministers, ministers,
concillors. They couldn't reject my proposals. They would ask me
to find solutions," Cerroni said in an interview published
earlier this month in Rome daily Il Tempo.
"The person who decides here is him (Cerroni), no one else.
And that's the way politicians want it," said Fabio Altissimi, a
competitor, according to the transcript of a wire-tapped call
that is part of prosecutors' warrant for Cerroni. Altissimi, who
is not under investigation, was not reachable for comment.
But in 2011, EU authorities came down hard on Cerroni's
biggest asset. In a letter to Rome that year, the European
Commission warned that 100 trash disposal sites were illegal,
because they did not pre-treat waste with chemicals that reduce
their volume and toxicity, as required by European guidelines.
It ruled that Malagrotta, the worst offender among the illegal
sites, could no longer collect garbage. Two years later, in
September 2013, it found the situation had not improved.
It ordered Italy to pay 61.5 million euros, plus a daily
fine of 256,000 euros, until it complies with EU regulations,
though neither fine has taken effect yet.
Though garbage no longer arrives in Malagrotta, the site is
still brimming with mountains of trash up to 80 metres high.
Prosecutors over the past two years have been investigating
whether any toxic material has seeped into the water table.
According to the city of Rome's plans, it will in 30 years
be transformed into a park, with 340,000 trees.
"It will become Buonagrotta for the service that this place
has rendered Rome," Cerroni joked to the parliamentary hearing.
In their arrest warrant, prosecutors said Cerroni was the
"undisputed master of a criminal organisation" that kept the
entrepreneur's competitors at bay, giving him for decades a
monopoly over the Lazio region's trash disposal business.
Prosecutors said certain towns in the Lazio region would pay
Cerroni's companies a higher price for a disposal service that
would turn garbage into high-quality refuse. Cerroni's company
would pocket the cash but not provide the extra service, they
The prosecutors' documents allege that Cerroni used his
political ties to exercise pressure on public officials to keep
getting public contracts to treat trash in a town in Rome's
outskirts. They also allege that Cerroni-owned companies that
convert trash into fuel inflated their charges.
Cerroni dismisses the charges with characteristic swagger.
"This is a conspiracy," he said in the il Tempo interview.
"They wanted to go after il Supremo, the man who even in
Australia is considered to have no equal. When it comes to waste
management, I am considered universally as the best in the
(Writing by Alessandra Galloni; Editing by Will Waterman)