ROME 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 equaled 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 organized 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 labor 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)