Friday 15 December 2017

The newest tool of intimidation in use by the Italian mafia? Online blogging

Steve Scherer in ROME

WHILE 21st-Century Italian mobsters still use bullets, anonymous phone calls and dead animals to make threats, they've also found a new tool of intimidation -- blogging.

Italian mayors and local administrators received 212 threats last year, according to a new report showing the continuing influence of organised crime on Italian society and politics, especially in the underdeveloped south.

The most common ways to threaten administrators who refused to collude with the criminal syndicates was to burn their cars, mail them envelopes containing bullets, or send boxes with severed animal heads -- an act reminiscent of an infamous scene involving the head of a racehorse in the film The Godfather.

However, a more modern method, anonymous blogging, was used to target Carolina Girasole, mayor of a town of 15,000 in southern Italy.

"I don't feel safe," said Girasole, 48, in a telephone interview from Isola Capo Rizzuto in the Calabria region, where the powerful 'Ndrangheta organisation is based.

"The blog shows that these people are willing to do and say anything to make us leave. If we don't go, and we don't have any intention to, what will be their next move?"

The authors, who write anonymously on a blog hosted by WordPress, "know my movements. They know what I do," she said.

Last year, the 'Ndrangheta made 41 per cent of the threats -- double the number made by the Mafia in Sicily, according to the study.

As new Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti battles to regain control of Italy's battered public finances and overhaul a stagnant economy, organised crime remains a constant drag on business and employment as well as a threat to law and order.

Italy's accounting court estimates that corruption among public officials amounted to €60bn last year, while the Bank of Italy said as much as €150bn in dirty money is laundered annually.

In the province that includes Girasole's town of Isola Capo Rizzuto, more than 18 per cent of the city governments said they had received threats. Emails, faxes and even graffiti were used to make threats. Pets were killed, bombs were planted in front of homes and offices, and private orchards of orange, olive and hazelnut trees were cut down.

When the threats don't work, killing can sometimes be the next step. One mayor, Angelo Vassallo, was shot and killed last year because of his effort to provide honest and transparent governance in the seaside town of Pollica, south of Naples. Local politician Francesco Fortugno was shot dead in 2005 as he voted in primaries for the Democratic Party in Locri, Calabria.

Sunday Independent

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