FEATURE-Sicily's cornered Mafia primed for reversal of fortune
June 26, 2017, 03:00:00 AM EDT By Reuters
(Repeats story first published on June 23 with no changes to
* Sicilian Mafia seen regrouping after years of setbacks
* Large numbers of mobsters leaving jail
* Weak economy hurts mob, brings drugs back into focus
By Crispian Balmer
PALERMO, Italy, June 23 (Reuters) - Shortly before 8 a.m. on
a sunny spring morning, Mafia boss Giuseppe Dainotti was cycling
down a quiet street when two men on a motorbike drew alongside
and shot him three times, killing him on the spot.
It was a classic mob hit in the heart of the Sicilian
capital. People claimed to have seen nothing and only one person
admitted to even hearing the gunfire. A month on, no one has
Released from prison in 2014, Dainotti, 67, had served more
than two decades in jail for murder. The motive for his own
murder are not clear but police say the first high-profile Mafia
hit in Palermo since 2010 may signal renewed internal strife.
"The Mafia today is in search of a new leadership at a time
when a lot of the old bosses are coming out of prison," said
Palermo police chief, Renato Cortese.
"The danger is that some bigwig will be released and try to
put the Mafia back together again," he told Reuters.
Once all-powerful on Sicily, the world's most famous crime
gang, known as Cosa Nostra, "Our Thing", has been squeezed over
the past two decades, with many bosses put behind bars, many of
its businesses sequestered and many locals ready to defy it.
Despite these setbacks, no one believes it is dying. Indeed,
after years of decline, with the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta
overtaking it as Italy's most powerful mobsters, prosecutors
believe it is trying to rebuild, starting with its drug trade.
"The mafia organisation is once again looking to develop and
maintain a total monopoly on the extremely profitable narcotics
market," Matteo Frasca, the head of Palermo's Appeals Court,
said in a speech in January.
Italian prosecutors say the 'Ndrangheta has a stranglehold
on cocaine trade, but Cosa Nostra is a major player in the
Italian hashish market, often importing the drug from northern
Africa and selling it throughout Europe.
In March, police found 400 kg (880 lb) of hashish, worth an
estimated 3 million euros ($3.4 million), floating just off the
Sicilian coast after a drop-off went awry. In May, police seized
around 300 kg of hashish in a single raid in Palermo.
"For a while, the Mafia depended on public work scams and
extortion rackets for much of their money, but with the economy
in such a dire straits here, they are returning to their old
drug habits," said a senior anti-Mafia magistrate, who declined
to be named because he was not authorised to speak publicly.
Sicily's economic output fell more than 13 percent between
2008 and 2015 and is only slowly recovering, while the jobless
rate is 22 percent, twice the national average.
The deep recession has made it much more difficult for
hard-up businesses to pay protection money, or "pizzo" in
Italian, to the Mafia and more than 1,000 firms have revolted
against paying that in Palermo alone in little more than a
In May, the trial started of nine men accused of extorting
cash from a dozen stores in the city's central Via Maqueda,
which were all run by foreigners, mainly Bangladeshis.
"It is an extraordinary affair. For the first time in
Palermo, a group of foreign storekeepers rebelled. They rebelled
together. It was a collective action," said Daniele Marannano,
coordinator of Addiopizzo, "Goodbye pizzo".
Addiopizzo is a grassroots civic movement that encourages
companies to fight back against Cosa Nostra.
"Lots of businesses still pay the pizzo, but they now want
something back from the Mafia for their money - help fixing
prices in their neighbourhood, help keeping difficult employees
in check, help collecting unpaid bills," said Marannano.
A local businessman, who declined to be named because of the
sensitivities involved, said one of the consequences of the
Mafia's decline was a rise in petty crime.
He complained that fruit groves operated by his family food
company were regularly raided at night by small-time thieves.
"That never used to happen in the past. A fly couldn't land on a
fruit tree without permission first from the Mafia."
The state's fight against the Mafia only got serious in 1992
after the group murdered two of Italy's top magistrates,
Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, triggering national
outrage and finally forcing complacent politicians to act.
Successive governments introduced waves of anti-Mafia laws,
allowing the state to seize mob assets, keep imprisoned mafiosi
incommunicado and far from Sicily, and develop protection
programmes for informers.
As a result, hundreds of mafiosi have been arrested over the
past 25 years, including Salvatore "Toto" Riina, the Boss of
Bosses, who ordered the murders of Falcone and Borsellino. He is
86 and believed to be terminally ill and likely to die in jail.
However, many other less prominent mobsters who were caught
up in the big anti-Mafia trials of the last two decades have
either been freed, like Dainotti, or else are coming up for
release, like Riina's nephew Giovanni Grizzaffi.
"The last Boss of Bosses was Riina. He was never formally
replaced and people felt kept in check by him, even when he was
in jail. When he dies, you might see a power struggle," said
police chief Cortese, who has a photograph of Falcone and
Borsellino hanging in his office.
Dainotti was shot dead on the eve of the 25th anniversary of
Falcone's killing, leaving police and politicians wondering
whether the date had been specially picked to signal that the
Mafia was back in action.
Rosario Crocetta, the governor of Sicily and anti-Mafia
crusader, has been the target of at least three mob plots to
kill him, most recently in 2010. He says the group is much
reduced, but ever evolving.
"They are chameleons," he said, two bodyguards standing
alongside his table at an outdoors cafe.
"You are never going to win total victory over the Mafia,
just as you can never totally defeat evil."http://www.nasdaq.com/article/featuresic...-20170626-00073