A former Minister of Justice and Professor of law, Paola Severino is a highly respected voice in Italy on justice issues and in the fight against the mafia. On April 6, she sounded the alarm in one of the major Italian newspapers, La Stampa, on the new activism of criminal organizations in the context of the Covid-19 crisis that has particularly affected Italy. Institut Montaigne asked her about the reasons for this concern and how to deal with it.
The sanitary crisis in Italy leaves many families and businesses vulnerable, and you have raised the alarm in the Italian press that the mafia is filling the void in many ways. What are the signs that the mafia is more active during this crisis?
Two different theoretical considerations and a practical verification led me to raise the alarm on the real danger that criminal organizations could take advantage of this period of health emergency and economic crisis to try to strengthen their position.
Firstly, I observed that criminal organizations have been weakened in Italy by a regulatory and judicial system that has vigorously fought them with every means at their disposal. We followed the teachings of Giovanni Falcone, the heroic judge who was a victim of the mafia. His thinking is summarized in two historical sayings: cut the grass under their feet, and follow the money. In doing so, we managed not only to condemn the leaders of the great mafia gangs, but also to seize the immense wealth produced by mafia crimes. Nevertheless, weakening does not mean defeating and the fire is still smoldering beneath the ashes.
Secondly, a weakened but undefeated organization naturally seeks all possible avenues to strengthen itself. For example, it uses every weakness of the social fabric to create proselytes, or attempts to infiltrate businesses to invest money from highly profitable illicit activities such as the arms trade and drug trafficking.
I then carried out a practical verification by getting in touch with the managers of schools in the South of Italy who are participating with Luiss University - of which I am Vice President - in a project whose aim is to strengthen legality. They served as "social alarm sensors", describing the plight of some families of artisans, street vendors and seasonal workers who had lost all sources of income and thus found themselves in a condition of absolute poverty. These families had been approached by people from criminal associations who supplied them with food parcels in exchange for - as you can imagine - future recruitment.