Italy: Criminal clans seek to tap into EU funds
15 Dec 2020

There are indications that criminal organizations are preparing to intercept a large sum of the funds slated for Italy and there’s widespread public concern that the much-needed financial support is a chimera more than anything else.

“There is despair, because the situation is already dramatic, and the concern is that the funds will not be spent for the interest of the territory and citizens,” says Giuseppe Scognamiglio, a host at Radio Siani and an anti-Camorra activist in Ercolano, just outside Naples.

In the wake of natural disasters or economic crises, the exploitation of national recovery funds has become a feature through collusion and connivance within local politics, where clans have made their claims on the money by winning tenders. “Clans have been mastering the art of applying for such funds as well as knowing how and where to exercise pressure,” says Scognamiglio.

In southern Italy in particular, European funds have become synonymous with easy cash flows for the ‘Ndragheta, Camorra and Cosa Nostra clans. Between 2014 and 2020, the EU set aside €77 billion for Italy in structural and investment funds. In 2018, The Senate Impact Assessment Office and Italy’s Financial Guard revealed that in six out of 10 cases, these funds ended up in the hands of swindlers and organized crime. Southern Italy accounted for 85% of structural fund fraud.

European funds and fraud

Irregularities concerning EU funds are a widespread phenomenon in Europe. To counter such misappropriation, the EU has its own body to control the efficiency of fund deployment, The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). According to their figures analyzing the period 2015-2019, the highest numbers of fraudulent actions involving EU funds were committed in Spain (11,029), Poland ( 5,017 ) and Romania (4,968).

Not all fraud correlates to organised crime. However, evidence of the involvement of Italian criminal organizations goes beyond national borders as seen in 2018, after the murder of the journalist Ján Kuciak in Slovakia. Subsequent investigations revealed the illegal transfer of EU structural funds within the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) framework by individuals with connections to members of the ‘Ndrangheta.

By Daniela De Lorenzo, Deutsche Welle, 12 December 2020

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