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Italy launches new anti-mafia plan

Code to gather laws, confiscation agency in Reggio

28 January, 15:18
Italy launches new anti-mafia plan (by Denis Greenan).

(ANSA) - Reggio Calabria, January 28 - Italy on Thursday unveiled a new anti-mafia plan putting together all current laws against organised crime and setting up a national agency to oversee seizures of assets from the Mob.

The cabinet met in Reggio Calabria, where the new agency is to be located, shrugging off recent threats from the Calabrian crime syndicate 'Ndrangheta.

The plan, drafted by Interior Minister Roberto Maroni and Justice Minister Angelino Alfano, will collect and streamline all existing anti-mafia legislation.

''This new code can be used by all law enforcement groups to fight the mafia,'' Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi told a press conference.

The plan will draw a national map of mafia assets, set up a new data base and stop organised crime infiltrating public tenders, he said.

"Firms will have a black list of companies so they know who not to sub-contract work to," the premier said.

Maroni said the plan would also target illegal waste disposal, one of the mafia's biggest earners, while Alfano said a state insurance net would be created for extortion victims.

But the cornerstone of the plan, Berlusconi stressed, will be the agency to control the seizure of assets from 'Ndrangheta, as well as the Camorra in Naples and Cosa Nostra in Sicily.

Unlike the other measures, which were put into bills to be presented to parliament, the agency was established by decree, effective immediately.

It will be ready to start work "in two weeks", Maroni said, stressing the importance of asset confiscation as "a fundamental tool" in the anti-mafia battle.

Asked about the possible danger of the mafia buying back assets at auction, Berlusconi replied: "We'll seize them again".

Berlusconi also stressed the importance of keeping the number of illegal immigrants in Italy down because ''they swell the ranks of criminals''.

This prompted a sharp reaction from the opposition Democratic Party (PD), with PD Senate whip Anna Finocchiaro, among others, accusing the premier of criminalising migrants.

The premier also repeated his conviction that TV shows about the mafia were "hurting Italy's image" and "this bad habit should be stopped", prompting a Catholic TV viewers group, Aiart, to note that the premier's Mediaset group had produced and broadcast two of the highest-rating recent shows including one on jailed ex-Cosa Nostra chief Toto' 'the Beast' Riina.

In other reactions, National Anti-Mafia Prosecutor Pietro Grasso said he would discuss the merits of the plan when he had examined it, while the small opposition Communist Party accused the government of staging "a publicity stunt". After the cabinet meeting, the premier met with Reggio prosecutors and said they "did not seem at all worried" about the recent 'Ndrangheta threats.

'Ndrangheta, now reckoned to be Italy's strongest mafia, has sent three apparent warnings to the government ahead of the cabinet meeting.

The fire bombing of the entrance to the main courthouse in Reggio on January 3 was followed a week ago by the discovery of a car containing rudimentary explosives a few hundred metres from Italian President Giorgio Napolitano's route to the airport after a visit to the city.

Then, on Monday, a bullet was sent to a Reggio prosecutor involved in key probes and trials against 'Ndrangheta.

On his visit last Thursday, Napolitano said 'Ndrangheta, which dominates Europe's cocaine trade, was now ''Italy's most insidious breed of mafia''.

The government has cracked down hard on 'Ndrangheta since the murder of a leading regional official in 2005, a vendetta massacre in Duisburg, Germany in 2007, recent race riots in the town of Rosarno and a stream of episodes of extortion and murder which have highlighted the mafia's continuing local dominance.

ASSET AGENCY 'KEY'.

Maroni said Thursday the new confiscation agency will be a "key in dismantling the economic power" of the mafia, which according to a survey Wednesday generates business equivalent to almost 10% of GDP, making it "Italy's biggest private enterprise".

Homes, farms and other assets confiscated from Italy's mafias have been turned to public use in recent years including a Riina villa which has become the Corleone tax HQ.

On Wednesday police made the third of three recent massive assets seizures, totalling some 1.4 billion euros ($2 billion), against businessmen linked to Cosa Nostra head Matteo Messina Denaro, who took over command of the Sicilian mafia in the wake of the 2006 arrest of boss of bosses Bernardo Provenzano.

Asset seizures have also played a key role in the state's fight against 'Ndrangheta, including a Dolce Vita landmark cafe in Rome, and the Camorra, including numerous construction and waste management firms.

Italy has caught many mafiosi on the most-wanted list in the last two years.

Those arrested have included most of Provenzano's would-be heirs and most of the remaining leaders of the Casalesi clan, exposed in Roberto Saviano's book Gomorrah, whose jailed chieftains recently saw their life sentences upheld.

Several 'Ndrangheta figures have also been caught including those responsible for the Duisburg massacre.

photo: Berlusconi, Maroni

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