Crim­i­nal broth­er­hoods flour­ish in a state

Mafia Repub­lic: Italy’s Crim­i­nal Curse

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Stephen Ben­netts

By John Dickie Hod­der & Stoughton, 524pp, $32.99

IN Blood Broth­er­hoods, a grip­ping ac­count of the rise of south­ern Italy’s three ma­jor crim­i­nal or­gan­i­sa­tions since Ital­ian uni­fi­ca­tion in 1861, Bri­tish his­to­rian John Dickie left his read­ers in 1943, when the Si­cil­ian mafia, Neapoli­tan Camorra and Cal­abrian ’ Ndrangheta were poised to re­launch their crim­i­nal en­ter­prises af­ter two decades of Fas­cist re­pres­sion, on the coat-tails of the re­cent Al­lied oc­cu­pa­tion of south­ern Italy. Mafia Repub­lic con­tin­ues this en­gross­ing nar­ra­tive through Italy’s post-war pe­riod to the present day and, to­gether with Blood Broth­er­hoods, it makes the most au­thor­i­ta­tive and upto-date ac­count of the three or­gan­i­sa­tions avail­able in English.

Po­lit­i­cal pro­tec­tion has al­ways been in­te­gral to the three mafias’ suc­cess. Since the es­tab­lish­ment of the Ital­ian Repub­lic in 1946: the Mafias and the Repub­lic have grown to­gether . . . Or­di­nary crim­i­nals, how­ever or­gan­ised they may be, do not have re­motely the kind of po­lit­i­cal friend­ships that se­nior Mafiosi have al­ways en­joyed . . . The [Cal­abrian] ’ Ndrangheta was no mere gang: like the Si­cil­ian Mafia, it was par­al­lel govern­ment, a par­a­sit­i­cal creeper that had wound it­self so thor­oughly around the branches of the state that it now formed a more solid struc­ture than the tree off which it fed.

A turn­ing point in the bat­tle against the Si­cil­ian mafia came af­ter its dra­matic 1992-93 cam­paign of as­sas­si­na­tions of anti-mafia in­ves­ti­ga­tors Gio­vanni Fal­cone and Paolo Borsellino and bomb­ings of cul­tural sites on the main­land like Florence’s Uf­fizi Gallery. It is now known se­nior rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Ital­ian state were at the time in se­cret nego- tia­tions with the mafia; there is also ev­i­dence the or­gan­i­sa­tion brought for­ward its as­sas­si­na­tion of Borsellino to elim­i­nate his op­po­si­tion to such ne­go­ti­a­tions. In March this year, one of for­mer Ital­ian prime min­is­ter Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni’s clos­est busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal col­lab­o­ra­tors, Se­na­tor Mar­cello dell’Utri, was sen­tenced to seven years’ jail on a charge of act­ing as in­ter­me­di­ary be­tween Ber­lus­coni’s busi­ness em­pire and the Si­cil­ian mafia, al­though the sen­tence is still sub­ject to an ap­peal.

In its high-stakes as­sault on the Ital­ian state in the 1990s, the Si­cil­ian mafia had over­played its hand, lead­ing to mass ar­rests and the emer­gence of a pow­er­ful anti-mafia move­ment in Si­cily. Ul­ti­mately, Cosa Nos­tra was to be eclipsed by the ’ Ndrangheta, es­pe­cially af­ter los­ing its dom­i­nance of the lu­cra­tive in­ter­na­tional co­caine trade to the Cal­abri­ans: the ’ Ndrangheta is with­out doubt Italy’s most pow­er­ful Mafia. The ben­e­fi­ciary of years of dis­re­gard by the state and pub­lic opin­ion, it has a re­morse­less grip on its

The ’ Ndrangheta is the only one of the three mafias known to be op­er­at­ing in Aus­tralia, where there are thought to be nine chap­ters. Three high-pro­file as­sas­si­na­tions in Aus­tralia since the 70s have been at­trib­uted to the ’ Ndrangheta: the 1977 dis­ap­pear­ance of Grif­fith anti-drugs cam­paigner Don­ald Mackay; the bomb­ing of the National Crime Au­thor­ity in Ade­laide in 1984, which killed an Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice of­fi­cer, and the 1989 shoot­ing in Can­berra of AFP as­sis­tant com­mis­sioner Colin Winch­ester. Al­though a pub­lic ser­vant from a non-Ital­ian back­ground was con­victed of the home ter­ri­tory, an un­par­al­leled ca­pac­ity to colonise other re­gions and other coun­tries, and vast re­serves of narco-wealth that al­low it to pen­e­trate the law­ful econ­omy and fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions. Yet it re­mains a largely un­ex­plored fron­tier for in­ves­ti­ga­tors. Cal­abria has yet to de­velop the rich an­ti­Mafia cul­ture that flour­ishes in Si­cily. Cal­abria is a gen­er­a­tion be­hind when it comes to the fight against or­gan­ised crime.

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