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Perception and establishmen of Italian criminal organisations in Spain


Abstract and Figures

This article explores the evolution of the presence of Italian criminal organisations in Spain according to changes in local conditions and political perceptions. We will start by explaining some historical conditions that has put Spain at the forefront of all the charts of international trafficking routes. This will help to understand the evolution of consolidation of mafia groups in Spain under some encouraging conditions and the role that members of the Italian organisations have played in Spain during the last decades. Finally, we explore on the possible evolution of the presence of members of the mafia in view of the financial crisis that is currently affecting Spain.
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The perception
of the Italian Mafias
abroad and foreign
organised crime in Italy
edited by
Francesco Calderoni
Stefano Caneppele
Maurizio Esposito
Ernesto Ugo Savona
The journal is published of Università degli Studi di Bologna
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Contents, a. I, n.3, 2013
7 Ernesto Ugo Savona
11 Francesco Calderoni, Stefano Caneppele and Maurizio Esposito
15 Edward R. Kleemans and Marcel De Boer
Italian Mafia in the Netherlands
30 Frank Neubacher
Italian mafias and how they are perceived in Germany
Felia Allum
Godfathers, dark glasses, and pasta:discussing British perceptions of
Italian Mafias
69 Andrea Giménez-Salinas Framis
Perception and establishment of Italian criminal organisations in
90 Stefano Becucci
Chinese Organized Crime in Italy
Romolo Giovanni Capuano
The perception of Nigerian criminality in Italy: a comparison
between academic sources and journalistic representations
Alina Harja
Romanian Mafia in Italy
153 Stefano Caneppele and Federica Sarno
The international presence of the ‘Ndrangheta according to recent
Francesco Calderoni and Valentina Maiolli
Exploratory analysis of the application of the offence of mafia-type
association to foreign groups
by Ernesto U. Savona
Why talk about perception of organised crime? It should be specified
whose perception, of what, or even better of which form of organised
crime, and where. These are three fundamental elements to identify the
problem because perception produces consequent attitudes and behaviors.
If media perception could be separated from police forces perception, as
well as from policy makers perception, the analysis would be enhanced be-
cause it would be possible to understand who influences who. This is quite
difficult since it would require detailed analyses, which often lack adequate
In this issue of the Journal, entirely devoted to the perception of organ-
ised crime, the fact that perception is different depending on the type of
organised crime and on "where", which means in which country this per-
ception is perceived, is taken for granted. Reading the essays of this issue
gives an idea of the different points of view of the authors, who employ
different analytical schemes. The result should be read taking into account
all these differences. Putting all of them together allows to reconstruct a
mosaic of perceptions of the different criminal organisations in some coun-
tries. I am sorry we could not have the essay on the Italian mafias in the
United States in time, because in this country the history of the different
perceptions is in some way useful to understand also their role in other
In fact, it is following the evolution of La Cosa Nostra in America, from
the 1960s up to the end of the 90s, that we can find information useful to
understand how the “external enemy” syndrome characterised the percep-
tion of organised crime of Italian origin in that country. It is the same
mechanism that characterised Colombians for cocaine trafficking in the
1990s and Arabs for terrorism after the attack of the twin towers on 9/11.
This information included well-developed descriptions of how these organ-
isations infiltrated in the country following traditional migration routes and,
in other cases, descriptions of generalisations resulting in ethnic prejudices.
Little by little American people realised that Italian mafias were more
American than they thought, and just like Colombians and Arabs exploited
their connections with their motherland for drug trafficking and terrorism.
The social labeling process made the Americans feel non responsible for
their involvement in traditional and new criminal organisations, thus legit-
imizing the repressive action. This caused several declarations of war,
among them the one made to the Colombians, who were accused of flood-
ing the county with cocaine in 1990. No reflection was made on the possi-
bility that the supply of drugs, as well as the supply of organized crime,
might be determined by an internal demand contributing to their develop-
ment. Islamic terrorism is quite different. Labeling and generalisations are
similar, but the United States are not involved in the phenomenon. Behind
all these different perceptions lies the social reaction of the Police forces,
whose investigations framed the Italian mafias, as well as Colombian ma-
fias and Islamic terrorism. The “external enemy” syndrome helped and
helps having more resources to fight it and to have, in many cases justifi-
ably, new legislative resources to dismantle it. It also produced a social
control violating citizens’ privacy by moving from time to time on the edge
between security and rights, according to the ongoing debate on the prob-
Similar dynamics could be observed in nearly all the countries where
criminal organisations were identified as an “external enemy”. This is true
for Italian mafias in Europe, for Russian mafias in the US and in Europe,
for Chinese mafias in Asia and elsewhere. This is true also for small crimi-
nal groups. In general, acts of violence like the ‘ndrangheta massacre in
Duisburg (Germany) in 2007 highlighted the problem of the growth of this
organisation beyond the Italian borders. People knew this already, but the
news reported by the Italian media was magnified. In the debate following
the event it seemed that the German investigators knew less about it than
the Italian ones. It makes no difference whether Germany discovered the
presence of the ‘ndrangheta within its borders thanks to the Duisburg mas-
sacre or whether the Italian media magnified the problem to underline the
internationalisation of the Italian mafias. The Duisburg massacre added
nothing new to what was already know on the ‘ndrangheta and its interna-
In the public perception this was the proof that the ‘ndrangheta is dan-
gerous and relevant at international level, therefore it should be fought ac-
cordingly. As always, in public perception the truth is exaggerated. For
sure, there is a final benefit, which is defining more effective investigating
tools and adequate regulations to solve the problems and their evolution.
On the same level lies the perception that everything is considered orga-
nized crime, from the big mafias to small gangs operating at local level.
The importance of great criminal organisations in different continents, and
in particular in the two mainly involved countries (USA and Italy), acceler-
ated and later defined the United Nations Convention against Transnational
Organized Crime signed by several countries in Palermo back in 2000.
Since then the experiences were limited to the two mainly involved coun-
tries, but, from 2000 on, the problem of organised crime has become by
default transnational and many - but not all the - countries ratified this con-
vention, despite having some doubts. Some resistance came from those
countries that, interpreting the concept of organized crime as referring to
structured criminal organisations and not experiencing them on their territo-
ry, were unwilling to support a model which was tailored on other coun-
tries’ experiences. However, the advantage produced by the Convention is
to have uniform remedies based on the successful experiences of fight
against organized crime in the USA and in Italy, which, thanks to the Pa-
lermo Convention, have become known and exportable to other situations.
They are ready to be used just in case of need. This is the demonstration
that the mechanism linking problems and their perception, even though
sometimes distorted and exaggerated by different interests at stake, works.
Still today, the debate keeps referring to the dialectic between percep-
tions and reactions. An event happens, or maybe a chain of events, like the
traffic of atomic waste, and Europol is given the mandate to take care of the
situation. All of this to find out that the problem does not exist but for an
episode. This happened in 1994 and since then the list of illicit traffics kept
growing longer. When we want a problem to be added in the priority list,
we call it organized crime. How much it really is organized crime is anoth-
er matter. We know little about who does what and where and any activity
turns in organized crime even though, as in the case of cybercrime, there
are many criminal individualities also together with criminal organisations.
Although previously the problem was constituted by the different ma-
fias, which were labeled for the public opinion’s market (Sicilian, Colom-
bian and Russian mafias, yakuza, Chinese triads and then ‘ndrangheta and
camorra and so on), now the problem is given by the different criminal ac-
tivities. The focus has shifted from “who does” to “what is done”. It would
be an appropriate change if this was part of a strategy aimed at understand-
ing the different criminal activities and their drivers, as well as dismantling
them. The problem is that this change hides a lack of knowledge on the
criminal organisations and their structure, in fact data and constant analysis
are required to understand their evolution. Today this analysis is lacking in
favor of clichés, above all the turnover of criminal activities. This factor,
which keeps enlarging more and more without any scientific backing, indi-
cates that the problem is serious. So people give exaggerated information to
gain more objectives: to say that the problem is important and receive more
resources to fight it. In Italy everyone talks about a turnover of mafia or-
ganisations worth 150 billion euros per year. Transcrime’s researches esti-
mated a turnover ranging from 8.3 to 13 billion euros per year. We might
also add foreign mafias, but they account for less than 10%. We said it and
wrote it and nobody contradicted us. The 150 billion euros litany went on
and on, resulting in someone saying it, another one repeating it and every-
one believing it is true. And how can the resources to fight a problem cost-
ing 150 billion euros be denied?
To make perception correspond exactly to the real dimension of the
problem it is necessary to understand the problem and its evolution in dif-
ferent forms and geographical and social contexts. It is necessary to moni-
tor its changes and to estimate its impact on the economy and society in
order to find the right solutions. This research is useful to reconstruct the
phenomena, to understand the interrelations between the different context
variables; it is useful to reason, together with Police forces analysts, on the
vulnerabilities of these organisations and on the most appropriate methods
to dismantle them. This is good research and these are its useful policy im-
by Francesco Calderoni, Stefano Caneppele and Maurizio Esposito
The sociological discipline has been facing mafia organizations issues
for many years, with lines of analysis often partial and not exhaustive of the
subject matter. The reasons are several. Firstly, the presence of a plurality
of approaches to the study of the phenomenon, from the sociological to the
anthropological point of view, from the historical to the more purely legal
and so on; all these approaches of course are to be integrated into a cogni-
tive effort that refuses the pure and sterile descriptiveness.
In secundis, these fields of study deal with different ways of considering
the Mafia and, more generally, the criminal organizations, proposing stud-
ies that move on a double line of interpretation. On the one hand, the “cul-
turalist” assumptions, which define these organizations in terms of family
and clan values, with a special focus on the so-called bonding social capital
and insider values of affiliation. On the other hand, what could be defined
“organizational” analyses, which detect the presence of a practical func-
tionality acting rationally in terms of “ophelimity” and in line with the aims
of the organization, and focus more on the explanatory thesis favoring the
bridging social capital and outsider organizations references.
A third factor, which makes such studies polymorphic and often subject
to simplistic interpretations, is bound to the diachronic and diatopic com-
ponents of the subject matter. The gangs change over time, and more and
more are characterized as criminal organizations operating at a “glocal”
level, maintaining control over the territories of origin and carrying out new
and different activities even in distant countries. Nowadays they are far
from the “cap and shotgun” stereotype which has been characterizing them
for over a century. What is meant by the term Mafia today is in fact a het-
erogeneous reality, which includes organizations with very disparate stories
and structure: from the Black Mafia to the Mexican Mafia, from the Alba-
nian to the Chinise (the “Triad”), from the Russian to the Japanese mafia
(the “Yakuza”) and so on. So much so that
Misha Glenny, highlighting its globalizing features, defined it
“McMafia” referring to fast-food chains-style such as McDonald's. Even in
Italy, this term is used to refer to various criminal organizations of the
South: the Camorra, the 'Ndrangheta, the Apulian mafia, the “Stidda” (star)
and so on.
In this issue, we attempted to propose some lines of interpretation not so
much on the phenomenon itself, but on its social perception. So we moved
along the inconvenient (and dangerous) ridge that separates the idiographic
from the nomological approach, the case study from the generalizing per-
spective, the micro from macro, trying to find a “middle way” that would
overcome the cultural shibboleth between the paradigms of the sociological
In particular, the articles move on a double-track: the social perception
of the Italian Mafia abroad, with particular reference to the Netherlands,
Germany, UK and Spain, and the complementary perception of foreign ma-
fias in Italy, specifically the Chinese, Nigerian and Romanian ones.
Compared to the Dutch situation, the Italian Mafia, that in the eighties
settled mainly in the capital, nowadays takes advantage of the country’s
geographical position as a “hub” to other destinations, especially for illegal
trafficking in narcotic drugs. Making use of official statistics, the authors
propose an accurate analysis of the presence of Cosa Nostra, ‘Ndrangheta
and Camorra in the Netherlands.
The situation in Germany is analyzed starting from the 2007 bloody
massacre in Duisburg, which claimed the lives of six young Italians. The
author makes use of various kinds of sources (academic, political and me-
dia) to provide an analysis of the phenomenon in Germany from a crimino-
logical perspective.
The author of the essay on the United Kingdom focuses primarily on the
media, providing an accurate analysis of the television field and the press,
as well as the official reports of the police forces. The conclusions attest a
substantial perception of the Mafia still tied to the traditional and “roman-
tic” stereotypes of the phenomenon.
The article on the Spanish situation highlights the conditions that helped
the Italian mafia to establish and thrive for some time in the Iberian Penin-
sula, which has become a place of refuge for many bosses. The conclusions
state that the current economic crisis might make these organizations not
only more dangerous, but also more specialized in seeking new markets
and new revenue streams.
As regards foreign mafias in Italy, the first contribution relates to the
Chinese mafia; starting from a definitional framework of the phenomenon
and a discussion on its actual presence, it analyzes the main trades of this
mafia, its internal structure and the main affiliation logics.
The Nigerian mafia is analyzed through academic, investigative, jour-
nalistic and media sources. Then the structure of this form of mafia is ex-
plained, as well as its peculiarities compared to other organizations. In the
conclusions, the author underlines the cognitive deficit, which probably
will be remedied in the next few years, partly due to the pervasiveness of
this criminal system.
The perception of the Romanian mafia in Italy is described by the au-
thor through official sources, in particular the Investigative Anti-Mafia Di-
rectorate; its roots in Italy and the major areas in which the organization
develops its activities are then discussed, with a case study related to the
region of Emilia Romagna.
In the experience section of the Journal, two more purely ideographic
articles are presented: the first is on the international presence of the
'Ndrangheta, which makes use of recent and very interesting tables; the
second, through an integrated approach (which the authors define theoreti-
cal, statistical and juridical), proposes an exploratory analysis of the appli-
cation of the crime of mafia association of foreign criminal organizations.
This issue of the new Journal “Sicurezza e Scienze Sociali”, in short,
tries to combine the three fundamental pillars of sociology: theory, method
and social usability. It is no coincidence that the authors are not only aca-
demics but also people who are concerned with the phenomenon at the in-
stitutional level. The articles - the reader will be able to realize it - while
maintaining a rigid scientific structure in fact try to outline also frameworks
and social policies that make this issue suitable for a heterogeneous target,
between the academic and professional world, including associations and
reporters. This issue addresses to all those who not only limit themselves to
the study of Mafia in a theoretical way, but try day by day to fight it in the
real world.
Italian Mafia in the Netherlands
By Edward R. Kleemans and Marcel De Boer
This article uses open sources to focus on the presence of Italian Mafia
members and Italian Mafia groups in the Netherlands and examine the na-
ture of their activities. Italian Mafia members and Italian Mafia groups
have been active in the Netherlands since the 1980s, particularly in Am-
sterdam and its surroundings. The main conclusion drawn is that the Neth-
erlands is used as a ‘hub’ to connect to the international trade in illegal
goods, particularly narcotics. Known cases confirm the findings that Ital-
ians migrate to the Netherlands and sometimes invest in legal activities
(e.g. pizzerias), whereas settled migrants sometimes perform odd jobs for
Italian Mafia members. The Netherlands is also used as a refuge for Italian
Mafia members on the run. To date, there is no sound evidence from open
sources that extortion is part of the criminal activities that are performed in
the Netherlands and the fact that there is a close intermingling of the upper
world and the underworld is not supported by the available evidence.
Keywords: Italian Mafia; the Netherlands; drug trafficking; extortion;
racketeering; transit crime.
Although there are many differences between various Italian Mafia
groups and Mafia clans (e.g. Savona, 2012), Italian Mafia is often used as a
‘container term’ in the Netherlands; a term that has had a profound effect
on the political discussion on organized crime. For a long time, Dutch
criminologists, as well as policy makers, regarded organized crime as a
* Prof Edward R. Kleemans, VU University of Amsterdam, and
Marcel De Boer
Kleemans and De Boer
predominantly foreign phenomenon and it took until the late 1980s, and the
early 1990s, for it to have a place on the political agenda and be raised as a
subject in public debate (for a review, see Fijnaut et al., 1996; 1998; Klee-
mans, 2007). The timing of this ‘discovery’ in the late 1980s and early
1990s is remarkably similar to what happened in many other European
countries and can be explained by the emergence of transnational drug
markets, the opening of the borders with Eastern Europe (increasing mobil-
ity, human smuggling and human trafficking) and the public focus put on
the fight between the Italian criminal justice system and Italian Mafia
groups which resulted in, for example, the murder/killing of judges Falcone
and Borsellino, which attracted widespread media attention throughout Eu-
rope (Fijnaut and Paoli, 2004 p. 603).
When organized crime reached the Dutch political agenda in the early
1990s, the threat was framed in terms of the ‘Mafia-type’ organizations
which exist in Italy and the United States and in the ways in which they
manifested themselves in society, such as, by gaining control of certain
economic sectors or regions, then acting as ‘alternative governments’ (see
e.g. Paoli, 2003; Calderoni, 2011, 2012; Savona, 2012). In 1992, the Dutch
government issued an ambitious memorandum entitled ‘Organized Crime
in the Netherlands: An Impression of its Threat and a Plan of Action’ (Min-
isterie van Justitie/Ministerie van Binnenlandse Zaken, 1992). According to
the memorandum, organized crime was on the verge of infiltrating econom-
ic sectors and political institutions and was a major threat to the integrity of
Dutch society. In public debate, the problems with the Mafia in Italy func-
tioned as a powerful symbol of what could happen to the Netherlands as
Systematic empirical research into the nature of organized crime in the
Netherlands, however, revealed that this picture was ill-founded and that it
actually contradicted the phenomenon of organized crime as manifested in
the Netherlands (for a review, see Kleemans, 2007). Briefly, ‘Mafia-type’
organizations were actually the exception rather than the rule and the con-
cept of ‘criminal networks’ turned out to be a more fitting description of
the rather flexible structures within which criminals operate. Furthermore,
‘racketeering’ turned out to be virtually absent. The primary business of
organized crime in the Netherlands can more aptly be described in terms of
‘transit crime’. Criminal groups are primarily involved in international
smuggling activities – drug trafficking, smuggling illegal immigrants, sex
trafficking, arms trafficking, trafficking in stolen vehicles, and other trans-
national activities, such as money laundering and tax evasion (e.g., ciga-
rette smuggling, oil fraud, VAT-fraud). The Netherlands can be either a
country of destination, a transit country, or, especially in the case of syn-
Kleemans and De Boer
thetic drugs, a production country (Kleemans, 2007). Organized crime uses
the same opportunity structure which facilitates legal trade and, to a certain
extent, resembles the ‘transit economy’ of the Netherlands.
Summing up, the main influence of the Italian Mafia on public debate
was in terms of their image rather than any actual influence exerted by
them or any resemblance between them and the organized crime taking
place in the Netherlands. In this article, we will focus on the presence of
Italian Mafia members and Italian Mafia groups in the Netherlands and the
nature of their activities. This article is based upon open sources,1 the limi-
tations of which are discussed in Section 2. Section 3 presents a brief histo-
ry of Italian Mafia in the Netherlands based upon the empirical evidence
available. Section 4 is devoted specifically to an examination of the pres-
ence of the ‘Ndrangheta in the Netherlands, based on recent research con-
ducted by the Dutch National Police Services (KLPD, 2011). Section 5 de-
scribes the research into a Camorra clan which had branches in Italy, Aber-
deen and Amsterdam, and was carried out by Campana (2011). The final
section contains the main conclusions on the presence of the Italian Mafia
in the Netherlands and the activities they are predominantly involved in.
1. Data and limitations of open sources
Information on organized crime varies from ‘soft’ to ‘solid’. Criminal
intelligence and documents at the start of a criminal investigation often
have a strong hypothetical character. Only during a criminal investigation,
when wiretaps, observation, and other methods generate concrete infor-
mation, can these hypotheses be tested. The criminal reality may be found
to be very different from what the criminal intelligence suggested. An ex-
ample of research that makes use of these sources is the Dutch Organized
Crime Monitor. During the period 1996-2012, 150 large-scale investiga-
tions, often spanning a period of several years, were systematically ana-
lysed (for more information, see Kleemans, 2007).
However, in the past, the Italian Mafia has not been given a high priori-
ty in Dutch criminal investigations which means that there has also been
very little evidence available on the presence of Italian Mafia members and
on their activities. The focus of many investigations, for example, was put
1 This also means that descriptions of persons and their alleged criminal activities or al-
leged criminal connections refer to these specific open sources and have not been checked
against criminal justice information.
Kleemans and De Boer
on native Dutch organized crime networks, cocaine trafficking from South-
ern America and heroin trafficking from Turkey. Information on Italian
Mafia members is often obtained as a ‘side-effect’ of such investigations,
as these frequently provide a view of offenders from different national and
ethnic backgrounds, including Italian offenders. Other prime reason for
Italian offenders becoming more visible on the police radar may be the in-
cidents occuring a local level (such as conflicts and murders) or interna-
tional requests for arrests to be made. To date, therefore, the available open
sources may have only offered a partial view of the presence of Italian Ma-
fia members and Italian Mafia groups in the Netherlands and of their activi-
For this article, we collected the main evidence from the open sources
available in the Netherlands. This meant that we had to rely heavily on pub-
lished scientific reports, police reports, and books written by investigative
journalists. As we cannot check the sources of this information, we can on-
ly judge whether or not the claims made in these reports are based on their
sources or whether they are speculative which also means that this article
only gives a partial view of some criminal groups and some criminal activi-
ties. If groups or activities were not investigated by the police or described
by journalists, they will have gone unnoticed.
2. A brief history of Italian Mafia in the Netherlands
As Varese (2011 p. 7) pointed out, there may be various reasons why
Italian Mafia members are be present in countries outside of Italy. One is
the generalised migration pattern of the population where Mafias are well
established, such as western Sicily and Calabria. People move and Mafia
members move as well, for various personal reasons. As a result they may
be more likely to engage in Mafia activities in the new territory. However,
Campana (2011) showed that they may also adapt to the new territory, for
example, being involved in racketeering in their country of origin (‘govern-
ing’), while trading on international markets like any other actor in a differ-
ent country, such as the Netherlands. A second reason Varese mentions is
‘soggiorno obligato’, a policy that punished convicted Mafiosi by forcing
them to relocate outside their area of origin. Part of Varese’s research
(2011) was actually based on cases such as these and revealed the success
that they had in becoming entrenched in the new territory. However, Mafia
groups may also fail in their attempts to start racketeering in different terri-
tory, since racketeering is a very difficult business to move to a different
Kleemans and De Boer
territory (cf. Reuter, 1983; Gambetta, 1993). One final reason why Mafia
members may be pushed to migrate is to escape Mafia wars or prosecution
in their countries of origin or to search for particular resources or invest-
ment opportunities abroad.2
Several criminal groups from different national backgrounds are active
in the Netherlands. Italian Mafia members and Mafia groups may be part of
this mixture of different nationalities. The first serious study into the pres-
ence of Italian criminal groups was performed by the Fijnaut Research
Group in the context of a Parliamentary Enquiry Committee into criminal
investigation methods (Fijnaut et al. 1996; 1998). The Fijnaut Research
Group studied the nature and scale of organized crime in the Netherlands,
based upon extensive analysis of criminal justice sources. One of their par-
ticular studies focused on the Italian Mafia and found several indications of
their presence in the Netherlands. For one, in 1988 several members of the
Roman ‘banda della Magliana’ had liaisons with Colombian drug traffick-
ers in order to import drugs for the Italian drug market. According to police
information, one of the members was also connected to the ‘Ndrangheta. A
police investigation in 1989 also showed that an Italian couple had tried to
export cocaine from the Netherlands using a motor home and were arrested
with 45 kilos of cocaine. According to the Fijnaut Research Group find-
ings, alleged Camorra members had also shot drug dealers in the city centre
of Amsterdam, after a conflict about payment; all signs that the Italian Ma-
fia was active on the Dutch drug market. A second indication, according to
Fijnaut et al (1996 p. 158), was the discovery of the body of a Turkish man
in the surroundings of Utrecht in 1990 who was allegedly connected to the
trade of arms and narcotics and who had liaisons of the Sicilian Mafia. One
of these Sicilian Mafia members had resided in the Netherlands for quite a
long time and had committed several crimes, whereas he was suspected in
Rome of extortion and trading in narcotics. A second person ran several
pizzerias, according to the Italian justice for reasons of money laundering.
In 1987 another prominent member came to the Netherlands, escaping ar-
rest in Rome. Between 1989 and 1990, a dozen criminal investigations in
the Netherlands focused upon Italian persons, allegedly connected to Italian
Mafia groups (Fijnaut, 1996 p. 158).
Another incident which took place in 1990 was the killing of a Turkish
man in a pizzeria in the centre of Amsterdam which related to a payment
conflict with two Camorristas (De Jong and Voskuil, 2010 pp. 118-119).
2 A more extensive elaboration of ‘push factors’ and ‘pull factors’ for criminal groups is
provided by Morselli, Turcott and Tenti (2011).
Kleemans and De Boer
One of these Camorristas was arrested in 1991, after a traffic violation,
which resulted in the seizure of 23 kilos of cocaine from the boot of his car
and 69 weapons from his house. The cocaine was from a cocaine supply
line running from Colombia and Venezuela to the Netherlands and Bel-
gium. All these incidents led the Dutch criminal justice system to become
aware of the fact that the Italian Mafia should be investigated, though in-
vestigations were not conducted by the Dutch police (De Jong and Voskuil,
2010 p. 119). After a thorough investigation in 1992, the Centrale Recher-
che Informatiedienst (CRI) (Central Criminal Information Unit) of the
Dutch police, whose purpose was to get an overview of Mafia type organi-
sations active in the Netherlands, claimed that it was possible that various
‘Mafia-type organisations’, in particular the ‘Ndrangheta, were present in
the Netherlands. (CRI, 1992 as mentioned in KLPD, 2011; p. 11).
Another large investigation was also conducted in 1992 into a narcotics
supply line called ‘Campina’ (Fijnaut et al., 1996 p. 162). Campina is a
well-known Dutch milk company, but this code name was to be read as
‘Camorra-pizzeria-Naples’. The focus of the investigation was on the pres-
ence of the Italian Camorra in the Southwest of the Netherlands. Italian
criminals bought cocaine and heroin from various criminal groups of dif-
ferent ethnic backgrounds (Turkish, Antillean and Colombian). Money was
transferred from Italy to The Hague and drugs were transported to Naples,
at least 15 or 16 times according to one of the sources. Three Italians were
directly connected to these activities, two of whom worked in pizzerias.
They also had liaisons with other Italians in the ‘pizzeria sector’ who had
criminal records in serious crime. The management of these transactions
was led from Italy. In 1993, members of the Camorra were arrested while
making a transaction with Colombian drug dealers. The two Italians re-
ceived prison sentences of five and four years (Fijnaut et al., 1996 p. 163).
There were also indications that Mafia members went to Rotterdam to buy
illegal cigarettes for the Italian market, a picture which was also confirmed
by Gratteri and Nicaso (2008 p. 250), who claimed that there were indica-
tions that the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta also used the Rotterdam harbour to
import illegal goods and narcotics.
Summarizing, the picture of the Fijnaut Research Group was that sever-
al Mafia groups were active on Dutch territory and that the Netherlands
was being used as a criminal marketplace, in order to acquire illegal goods
such as drugs. At the time of the research conducted by the Fijnaut Re-
search Group and the Parliamentary Enquiry Committee, the claim was that
the Italian Mafia used the Netherlands to get a good position on the illegal
goods markets. Their presence was viewed as a risk for the criminal justice
system and the rule of law, as persons from the licit society were allegedly
Kleemans and De Boer
facilitating Mafia members. Furthermore, the risk of deadly violence was
mentioned, referring to the killings of two dealers in the Amsterdam city
centre by Fijnaut et al (1996). Briefly, the presence of the Mafia was clear,
but the information was eclectic and based upon only a few criminal inves-
tigations. The main conclusion was that Mafia members and groups used
the Netherlands as a market for trading in illegal goods.
Criminal investigations were the main basis for the conclusions drawn
by the Fijnaut Research Group (Fijnaut et al., 1996). These sources, how-
ever, reveal little about the reasons why Italian Mafia members come to the
Netherlands. Over the years, several investigative journalists have tried to
find other sources to describe the Italian Mafia and their way of life. In the
Netherlands, two investigative journalists, Stan de Jong and Koen Voskuil,
did research into the presence of Mafia members and Mafia groups in the
Netherlands (De Jong and Voskuil, 2010), interviewing several Mafia
members who were detained in prison and decided to become pentiti. In
their book ‘Mafia in the Netherlands’ they claim that the presence of Italian
Mafia clans is underestimated by the Dutch criminal justice authorities and
that several members of different Mafia groups enter the Netherlands, trade
in narcotics, and then leave again.
One case, known as the ‘A12-motorway-murders’, can also be linked to
the Italian Mafia group the ‘Sacra Corona Unita’ (De Jong and Voskuil,
2010 pp. 86-89). On February, 22, 2002, two dead bodies were discovered
along the A12 motorway near Woerden, in central Netherlands. The bodies
were of Brazilian men. According to the interpretation of testimonies of
clan members which were possibly related to these murders, they were the
consequence of a ripdeal. The leader of the clan, residing in Amsterdam,
initially planned to just steal or ‘rip’ the drugs, but decided later on that it
was more convenient to murder the two Brazilian men and seize control of
the drugs (De Jong and Voskuil, 2010). At this moment, it is still not clear
who was exactly responsible for this assassination. A dubious role is also
ascribed to a restaurant owner in Amsterdam, who was involved in doing
odd jobs for Italians on the run, providing housing (anonymously) and
money, according to Voskuil and De Jong (2010, p. 72).
Another important arrest happened in 2007. At the request of the Italian
criminal justice authorities, the Dutch police arrested Guiseppe de To-
masso, a member of the Camorra who arrived in the Netherlands in early
2007, in Zandvoort, a seaside resort close to Amsterdam. De Tomasso
maintained contact with Italian restaurant owners in Haarlem (a city in the
vicinity of Amsterdam). According to his landlord, De Tomasso felt com-
pletely safe in the Netherlands and had a large network. Back in Italy, De
Tomasso was being prosecuted for membership of a criminal organization
Kleemans and De Boer
and the international trade of narcotics. According to the Italian criminal
justice authorities, he was connected to a Mafia family from Naples (De
Jong and Voskuil, 2010 pp. 111-122).
The aforementioned book ‘The Italian Mafia in the Netherlands’ in-
cludes many examples, a few of which have been described above. The
main picture pertains to several Mafia members residing in the Nether-
lands, a part of their activities involving getting access to drug markets,
trading in narcotics, and killing opponents. Presence in the Netherlands is
particularly connected to trading in narcotics. Furthermore, Forgione
(2012)3 concludes in his study that various Mafia members reside in Am-
sterdam and Rotterdam to offer ‘logistic support’ to their organizations.
What the term ‘logistic support’ involves, however, is not clearly specified.
Various ‘pentiti’ have given testimony, claiming that the Netherlands is
generally viewed as a ‘safe haven’ where they have little to fear from the
criminal justice authorities.
Looking back at this brief history of the Italian Mafia in the Nether-
lands, one may conclude that there are several reasons for Mafia members
to be present in the Netherlands. The Fijnaut Research Group focused upon
the 1980s and the early 1990s and concluded that several Italian Mafia
members were present in this country, the primary reason for their presence
being searching for connections on the drugs market and migration (Fijnaut
et al., 1996; 1998). Other reasons were possibly escaping the criminal jus-
tice authorities. A number of Italians were also engaged in activities in the
licit economy, such as starting and exploiting Italian restaurants. In some
cases, migrated Italians still had connections with their countries of origin
and with Italian Mafia groups in Italy and facilitated criminal activities in
the Netherlands, for example, by providing shelter for Mafia members on
the run. From the countries of origin, these contacts were also used to gain
access to new illegal markets, particularly to support the international trade
in narcotics. As mentioned before, in some cases ‘rip deals’ occurred and
violence was used against opponents, which produced the most visible in-
dications of the presence of the Italian Mafia in the Netherlands. The stud-
ies by investigative journalists De Jong and Voskuil (2010) and Forgione
(2012) generally reinforce these observations. Known cases confirm the
findings that Italians migrated to the Netherlands and sometimes invested
in legal activities, whereas settled migrants sometimes performed odd jobs
for Italian Mafia members. The Netherlands is also mentioned as a refuge
3 The authors would like to thank Paolo Campana (Oxford University) for translating
relevant parts of the Forgione publications.
Kleemans and De Boer
for Italian Mafia members on the run. These studies provide no sound evi-
dence that extortion is part of the criminal activities that are being per-
formed in the Netherlands. However, one must also recognize the fact that
this information can only be obtained if the criminal justice authorities spe-
cifically focus on investigating ‘Mafia-type’ organisations and the activi-
tities in which they engage. In Section 4, we will describe the presence of
the ‘Ndrangheta in the Netherlands, based upon a recent report complied by
the Dutch National Police Services (KLPD, 2011).
3. The ‘Ndrangheta in the Netherlands
In Diemen, close to Amsterdam, on March, 12, 2009, the Dutch police
arrested Giovanni Strangio, a member of the ‘Ndrangheta who was held
responsible for the murders of ‘Ndrangheta members in Duisburg (Germa-
ny) in 2007. These murders originated from a conflict between two
‘Ndrine’ clans in the town of San Luca during a carnival (De Jong and
Voskuil, 2010 pp. 143-145). The Duisburg murders prompted the German
criminal justice authorities to investigate the presence of Mafia groups on
German territory. Similarly, the Dutch National Police Services (KLPD)
started to look into the activities of the ‘Ndrangheta in the Netherlands. The
public report concludes that several ‘Ndranghetisti have settled in Amster-
dam and its surroundings (KLPD, 2011). It also sums up several activities
of the ‘Ndrangheta in the Netherlands. It is important to note that these fac-
tors may also be applicable to other Mafia-type organisations. First, the
Netherlands is mentioned as a ‘refuge’ for ‘latitanti’, persons escaping the
Italian criminal justice authorities. These ‘latitanti’ play an important role
in the trade in narcotics and use the Netherlands both as a refuge and as a
point of access to transnational drug markets (KLPD, 2011 p. 8). This is
quite similar to other nationalities, such as British criminals seeking refuge
in Amsterdam and trading in drugs. Soudijn and Huisman (2010) investi-
gated this specific group and concluded that the Netherlands was attractive
because of its tolerant drug policy and relatively mild sanctions.4 In some
cases, they used the extensive network of settled British criminals. It was
rremarkable that the British were not formally registered as inhabitants, but
were able to live, act and move around without much trouble. One im-
4 Recently, a specialized police unit arrested numerous British criminals in Amsterdam
and its surroundings, so the ‘safe haven’ image may be history.
Kleemans and De Boer
portant facilitating factor, for British, Italian and other criminals alike, is
the presence of facilitators who can offer accommodation: brokers who are
able to offer housing, for cash, without proper registration of who lives in
these premises (KLPD, 2011 p. 54; Kruisbergen, Van de Bunt and Klee-
mans, 2012 p. 205).
Second, an important criminal activity conducted by the Mafia groups is
the import, export and trade in narcotics (KLPD, 2011 p. 57). This picture
seems to be mainly based on information about Mafia members gleaned
from other investigations (not primarily focused upon the Italian Mafia).
The Netherlands seems to function as a transit country for narcotics (De
Jong and Voskuil, 2010 p. 53). The Italian authorities provided the Dutch
authorities with information in 2008 about large quantitities of synthetic
drugs that were coming through the port of Rotterdam. According to Grat-
teri and Nicaso (2008 p. 250), the harbour of Rotterdam is an important
import ‘hub’ for drugs for the ‘Ndrangheta. This claim was based upon sei-
zures of cocaine by the Dutch authorities in the port of Rotterdam, such as
a seizure of 44 kilograms of cocaine for a ‘Ndrangheta clan.
Third, the literature mentions investments of criminal money in real es-
tate, restaurants and residential houses (De Jong and Voskuil, 2010; Cam-
pana, 2011). The KLPD study, however, did not indicate that any property
is being acquired by the ‘Ndrangheta in the Netherlands, but there are signs
that this is happening in Germany and Belgium (KLPD, 2011 p. 65). There
are no sound indications that acquiring property by ‘Mafia-type’ organisa-
tions has ever been investigated by the Dutch police.
Fourth, there is no evidence of any ‘corruption’ by government
agencies. The report mentions an interview with Fijnaut who claimed that
members of the ‘Ndrangheta would probably avoid contact with criminal
justice authorities in order to keep their criminal activities hidden (KLPD,
2011 p. 71, Interview 26). Nevertheless, if the Netherlands is an important
transit country, the report suggests that the interests in keeping drug supply
lines active is high and that seeking to influence criminal justice authorities
may possibly be a part of that. However, these claims in the report are not
supported by any data.
Fifth, the report claims that the ‘Ndrine’ are possibly quite active in the
purchase and sale of weapons in the Netherlands (KLPD, 2011 p. 71).
Sixth, the report suggests that there is no evidence that members of the
‘Ndrangheta are currently extorting hotel, restaurant or pub owners in the
Netherlands (KLPD, 2011 p. 73). Finally, the use of Italian hotel, restaurant
and pub owners as ‘cover’ is described and it is notable that, in three inves-
tigations conducted by the National Investigative Police Agency, pizzerias
emerge as covers. This sector was already mentioned as one which might
Kleemans and De Boer
be sensitive for infiltration by the Fijnaut Research Group (Fijnaut et al.,
1996; 1998).
4. The Camorra in the Netherlands
Another interesting source on ‘Mafia-type organisations’ in the
Netherlands is Campana (2011), who studied the diversification of Mafia
groups in different territories, particularly in Italy, the Netherlands and
Scotland. Campana tests two different notions; first, the notion that Mafia
organizations are able to relocate and expand their business outside their
country of origin, referring to the ‘global crime’ definition of Castells as
the networking of powerful criminal organizations, and their associates, in
shared activities throughout the planet” (Castells, 2000 p. 166). In this
way, Mafia groups used the opportunities and resources in other territories
to expand their illegal business. The second notion is the ‘local
embeddedness’ of organized crime groups in their countries of origin.
Criminal activities are difficult to move, as it is difficult to monitor them
from a distance. Furthermore, several activities are dependent upon having
a locally-based reputation and reliable information. This means that certain
activities, such as ‘racketeering’, are difficult to move to a different
territory (e.g. Reuter, 1983; Gambetta, 1993).
Campana (2011) investigated the De La Torre clan, a Camorra group
with branches in Italy (Campania), Scotland (Aberdeen), and the
Netherlands (Amsterdam). He used a dataset of 1,824 wire-tapped calls
between 202 different contacts and concluded, after further selection of
clan members, that the group comprised 51 members, 96% of whom
originated from the area in which the clan resides. Six members lived
outside of Italy, which according to Campana gave the clan a transnational
dimension. The activities of the group are divided into different categories:
‘management’, ‘protection activities’, ‘business in the illegal and legal
economy’ and ‘resource acquisition’. It became clear that half of the
activities of the group related to ‘protection activities’ and ‘business in the
illegal and legal economy’. Protection activities include traditional forms of
extortion, also known as ‘racketeering’ (Kleemans, 2007). It is notable that
38% of all the telephone calls concerned ‘management tasks’, in particular,
to solve conflicts and disputes between different clan members. Campana
concludes that the clan acts as a monopolist in the protection racket in their
territory of origin (Campania), but that a protection racket is a difficult
business to move or expand. The Camorra group did not expand its core
Kleemans and De Boer
business and is still highly dependent on its territory of origin, where the
vast majority of the members live. Nevertheless, they diversified their
activities by using Amsterdam as a ‘hub’ in international drug trafficking
and by making investments in Aberdeen in the food and catering sector, in
the construction industry, and in real estate.
As aforementioned, Amsterdam is described as a ‘hub for criminal
activities (Campana, 2011; Forgione, 2009); clan members do not sell
cocaine on the streets of Amsterdam, but use this ‘hub’ to forge contacts
with other narcotics traffickers. Campana (2011 p. 221) concludes that the
clan ‘operates along the lines of functional diversification’. On the subject
of violence, the study concludes that its use is necessary for the survival of
the group. At local level, the group competes with the state to provide
protection, but the group uses less violence in countries where the state has
a stronger monopoly of the use of violence. According to Campana (2011),
Mafia groups may change their modus operandi across territories: brooking
no competition in their territory of origin, while behaving just like any
other actor would in other places. This conclusion drawn by Campana is
interesting from a theoretical point of view, yet one should be reminded
that the empirical research only relates to the activities of a single clan, and
that the information is rather dated now. Whether or not these conclusions
equally apply to other clans and Mafia-type organisations is unknown (see
also, Savona, 2012). It is also possible that clans change their methods and
activitities fairly quickly, in response to investigations carried out by
international and national criminal justice authorities. Thus, the conclusions
are theoretically interesting, yet should be tested more widely in empirical
The image of the Italian Mafia has had a profound effect on the political
discussion on organized crime in the Netherlands. The image of how Italian
Mafia groups had gained control over certain territories or economic sec-
tors, acting as ‘alternative governments’, was much more important than
the actual influence they exerted in the Netherlands and more important
than any resemblance they might have with the organized crime taking
place in the Netherlands. Furthermore, this image put criminal investigation
strategies on the wrong track, since ‘Mafia-type’ organizations were the
exception rather than the rule, and activities of organized crime groups in
the Netherlands were found to be quite different from the traditionally best
Kleemans and De Boer
known Mafia activities (‘racketeering’). In terms of Campana (2011), ‘trad-
ing’ on illegal markets instead of ‘governing’ was shown to be the major
business of organized crime in the Netherlands.
Nevertheless, Italian Mafia members and Italian Mafia groups have
been active in the Netherlands for at least 30 years since the 1980s, particu-
larly in Amsterdam and its surroundings. The main conclusion is that they
use the Netherlands as a ‘hub’ to connect to the international trade in illegal
goods, especially narcotics. Known cases confirm the findings that Italians
migrate to the Netherlands and sometimes invest in legal activities (e.g.
pizzerias), whereas settled migrants sometimes perform odd jobs for Italian
Mafia members. The Netherlands is also mentioned as a refuge for Italian
Mafia members on the run. The studies provide no sound evidence that ex-
tortion is part of the criminal activities that are performed in the Nether-
lands and a close intermingling of the upper world and the underworld is
not supported by the available evidence from open sources.
A recent study by the Dutch National Police Services focused specifi-
cally on the presence of the ‘Ndrangheta in the Netherlands (KLPD, 2011)
and its findings were remarkably similar to earlier research into Italian Ma-
fia members and Mafia groups in general; members of the ‘Ndrangheta re-
side in the Netherlands and sometimes use settled Italian migrants to per-
form odd jobs for them. An important service entails providing shelter for
Italian Mafia members who are trying to escape Italian criminal justice au-
thorities. They may use settled Italian migrants to provide shelter, but they
may also turn to other facilitators, providing, for example, housing for cash
without proper registration of who lives in the premises; the members of
the ‘Ndrangheta also use the Netherlands for trafficking and trading in nar-
cotics. As mentioned in Fijnaut et al. (1996), the Netherlands are viewed as
an important ‘hub’ in the international trade in narcotics and are used to
gain access to international drug markets. Finally, extortion and racketeer-
ing are only mentioned as part of the activities in their places of origin, but
the open sources available at this moment do not support the image that
these are a substantial part of their activities in the Netherlands.
However, one must recognize the fact that such information can only be
obtained if the criminal justice authorities specifically focus on investigat-
ing these activities. In the past, the Italian Mafia has not been given a high
priority in Dutch criminal investigations. The focus of many investigations
has been on native Dutch organized crime networks, for example, on co-
caine trafficking from Southern America and heroin trafficking from Tur-
key. Information on Italian Mafia members is often obtained as a ‘side-
effect’ of such investigations, as these often provide views of offenders
from different national and ethnic backgrounds, including Italian offenders.
Kleemans and De Boer
Other important reasons why Italian offenders become visible on the police
radar may be the incidents which occur at local level (such as conflicts and
murders) or international requests for making arrests. To date, therefore,
the available open sources can only provide a partial view of the presence
of Italian Mafia members and Italian Mafia groups in the Netherlands and
their activities. Perhaps other conclusions may be drawn in the future if
more police effort is put into investigating Italian Mafia members in the
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Italian mafias and how they are perceived in
by Frank Neubacher
“Inoltre, la mafia non ha bisogno di adoperare attualmente la violenza o
l’intimidazione diretta se non nel minimo numero dei casi in cui usa la sua
autorità. Essa ha ormai relazioni d’interesse così molteplici e variate con tutte
le parti della populazione; sono tanto numerose le persone a lei obbligate per la
riconoscenza o per la speranza dei suoi servigi, che essa ormai ha infiniti mezzi
d’influire all’infuori del timore della violenza, per quanto la sua esistenza si
fondi su questa. Di più, quando pure quei suoi altri mezzi non bastino, la
riputazione d’efficacia e di inevitabilità delle sue vendetta è stabilita talmente
bene, che basta la fama ch’essa s’interessi ad un affare perché ognuno si
sottoponga in quello alle sue voglie.”
(Leopoldo Franchetti, Condizioni politiche e amministrative della Sicilia, 1876,
§ 57)
The murder of six young Italians shot dead in front of an Italian restau-
rant in Duisburg in the early hours of the 15th August 2007 marks a cut.
Since then, the question came up whether Italian mafias are present and
operating on German ground. This article deals with the German perception
of the Italian mafias, both operating inside and outside Italy. Findings from
different sources, among them science, police and media, are presented and
Keywords: mafia, cosa nostra, `ndrangheta, camorra, criminology, police,
media, public
Frank Neubacher, Institute of Criminology, Faculty of Law, University of Cologne, D-
50923 Cologne; email:
1. Sharp contrasts
When in 1876 Leopoldo Franchetti, a young liberal from Tuscany, trav-
elled to Sicily to inquire into the economic, social and political problems of
the island, he may well have been a stranger in a strange land. But in his
case the fact that he came from a totally different background had apparent-
ly sharpened his view on the research topic. His report is still regarded as a
valid guide to understand the mafia until today. Unlike Franchetti we now-
adays have plenty of information on Southern Italy and the phenomenon of
the mafia. The sources of information include books, movies (Dietz 2008;
Neubacher 2004; Vorauer 1996), the internet, and even computer games.
But do we really have a clearer picture? Do we know how realistic the end-
less number of representations of the mafia in the mass media is? It seems
the contrast between the public’s interest and its knowledge about the mafia
could hardly be greater. The search for both information and entertainment
creates a huge market. Books on the mafia sell, in particular investigative
stories told by journalists (Lodato 2000; Reski 2010; Roth 2009; Saviano
2006), mafia dropouts (Buscetta 1999; Ulrich 2005) or members of the ju-
diciary (Gratteri 2010; Lodato/Grasso 2001; Pignatone/Prestipino 2012).
They may provide valuable insights but normally cannot close the infor-
mation gap as journalists and scientists apply different methods and follow
different goals. While journalists seek to tell a thrilling story, scientists aim
at defining, analysing and assessing a phenomenon in a sober manner. Ex-
actly for that reason it is quite unpleasant that science does not have clear
definitions to offer in the case of “mafia” or “organised crime”.
2. What is organised crime, what is mafia? – Phenomena,
definitions, structures
Due to the lack of a commonly accepted definition of “organised crime”
(Finckenauer 2005 p. 63) the issue is approached here by describing the
activities of organized crime groups first. Organised crime generates im-
mense profits with illegal business operations, in particular subsidy fraud,
trafficking in drugs and arms, protection racket, product piracy, counterfeit-
ing of currencies (Europol 2013 p. 14; Bundeskriminalamt 2010 p. 20 pp.).
Thus, it poses a threat to the legal economy which is damaged by the in-
flow of „dirty money“ that provides organised crime groups with a compet-
itive advantage. The criminal origin of the money is disguised by means of
money laundering which is punishable under § 261 German Criminal Code.
For Germany the Bundeskriminalamt (Federal Criminal Police Office) has
estimated that organised crime groups make annual profits of nearly EUR
700 million, most of them through economic crime and drug crime (BKA
2008 p. 9). The financial means can be used in order to hire henchmen or to
expand the influence into other relevant fields (e.g. politics, police, justice,
media). In Russia the sphere of influence of organised crime is said to be
“widespread, with control over 40-60 per cent of the country’s enterprises
and 60-80 per cent of banks” (Gilinskiy 2006 p. 280). In such extreme cas-
es organised crime can become dangerous for the state itself, as examples
from Colombia, Mexico or Italy during the 1980s and 1990s illustrate.
States will fail if they lose citizens’ trust and are unable to guarantee their
Although “organised crime“ is an established term it is still lacking con-
ceptual clarity. According to the “Common Guidelines of the Justice and
Interior Ministers of the German States on the cooperation of public prose-
cutors and police officers in fighting Organised Crime” of May 1990, “Or-
ganised crime is the planned commission of criminal offences determined
by the pursuit of profit and power which, individually or as a whole, are of
considerable importance if more than two persons, each with his/her own
assigned tasks, collaborate for a prolonged or indefinite period of time,
a) by using commercial or business-like structures,
b) by using force or other suitable means of intimidation, or
c) by exerting influence on politics, the media, public administration,
judicial authorities or the business sector.” (Bundeskriminalamt 2010 p. 9)
Due to the numerous conjunctions with “or”, this working definition is
too broad and leaves much to the discretion of the criminal justice authori-
ties (cf. Kinzig and Luczak 2004 p. 336). On the international level the UN
Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime adopted in Palermo in
December 2000 (Albrecht and Fijnault 2002) has not helped resolving the
terminological problem. According to article 2 (a) “Organized criminal
group shall mean a structured group of three or more persons, existing for a
period of time and acting in concert with the aim of committing one or
more serious crimes or offences established in accordance with this Con-
vention, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other mate-
rial benefit.” This conceptual vagueness has led some criminologists to pre-
fer a narrower understanding of organised crime which is based on the as-
pect of “institutional organisation” (Kinzig 2004 p. 66). The focus is shifted
from collaboration to association and the question whether a group of per-
petrators relies on a permanent organisational framework in terms of hier-
archy, territories and rules for operation and behaviour. In that sense Gilin-
skiy (2006 p. 278) has proposed that “organized crime is defined as the
functioning of stable, hierarchical associations, engaged in crime as a form
of business, and setting up a system of protection against public control by
means of corruption.” Furthermore, he named some characteristics to be
typical for a “criminal organization”: “a stable association of people, de-
signed for long-term activity; a complex hierarchical structure with func-
tions assigned to specific units of the organization; the criminal nature of
the activity and associated financial activities; the deriving of maximum
profits as the key goal of the activity; the corruption of powerful organiza-
tions and individuals, especially law-enforcement bodies, as the main
means of the criminal activity; and the aspiration to monopoly in a certain
sphere of trade or on a certain territories [sic].” (Gilinskij 2006 p. 279) This
understanding deserves full support if it is kept in mind that the use of force
or intimidation is an integral part of the business strategy. Correspondingly,
Finckenauer (2005 p. 65) has included the use of force in his “framework”
proposal. This framework contains “the following elements: ideology (or
lack thereof), structure/organized hierarchy, continuity, violence/use of
force or the threat of force, restricted membership/bonding, illegal enter-
prises, penetration of legitimate business, corruption.” The main driving
forces, however, are the profits organised crime can make by providing
“goods and services that are either illegal, regulated, or in short supply”
(Finckenauer 2005 p. 67), for example sex, drugs, guns, gambling or “pro-
The Sicilian mafia which is the best known of the Italian mafias has tra-
ditionally offered “protection” for money (Blok 1975; Gambetta 1993). But
still “organised crime”, “criminal organisation” and “mafia” are different
terms which must not be mixed up, each with a specific meaning of its own
(see also Finckenauer 2005 p. 73). There is no simple and valid definition
of mafia (cf. Gambetta 1993 p. 1; Lupo 2004 p. 11). Mafia can best under-
stood as a sub-category of organised crime. Naturally, collaboration of in-
dividuals and groups of individuals in criminal offences is encompassed,
but mafia is more – its prior condition is some form of organisational struc-
ture. Among Italian scholars and prosecutors this aspect is highlighted. The
mafia is usually described (e.g. Lupo 2004 p. 37; Pignatone and Prestipino
2012 p. 1721) as a hierarchical criminal organisation effectively exercis-
ing control on a certain territory and maintaining contacts with relevant
persons from politics and society. Fulvetti (2004 p. 48; see also Paoli 2000)
came straight to the point when he rightly stated „the mafia is a type of or-
ganised crime with ‚something extra’ which resides in its organisational
dimension – formal and secret, independent and pre-dating the management
of the single activities and illicit enterprises, and which operates as a prima-
ry element of internal identification and of defence against the outside
world. It is precisely thanks to the existence of a formal mafia organisation
that Mafiosi are able to take root in a given territory, exercising various
forms of control on the local society and its resources.”
The fact, however, that the organisation is structured hierarchically on
the lower levels and that the underlings are aligned with the boss (capo) of
a local “family” (famiglia) must not lead to the assumption that there is a
nationwide or even global mafia system that is directed by just one boss.
As Gambetta (1993 p. 7) put it in his economic terminology “the mafia is
not a centralized industry but is constituted by many individual ‘firms’
united by a brand name and, intermittently, a cartel.” The basic unit has
always been and still is the “family” (or `ndrine for the `ndrangheta) on the
local level. That does not keep families from sometimes cooperating with
each other, e.g. for business reasons. Moreover, the investigations of the
Italian anti-mafia authorities in the 1980s and 1990s revealed that since
about 1975 a body has existed in Sicily that was installed by the mafia fam-
ilies to settle disputes and decide matters of high relevance for all families
(Arlacchi 2000 p. 65, 69; Dickie 2005 p. 357, 392; Falcone 2001 p. 101).
This body called commissione resp. cupola was not permanent but existed
for certain periods of time. For the primus inter pares, that is the “boss of
the bosses”, it was a welcome instrument to expand his influence. From the
times of Totò Riina, the notorious mafia boss of the 1980s, it is known that
the decision to kill the high-ranking judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo
Borsellino in 1992 was taken in this circle of power (Fijnaut 2012 p. 131).
In the mafia form follows function. Structures are created and dissolved
again if this is deemed necessary and in the interest of the organisation.
Recent developments give reason to believe that the `ndrangheta, the pow-
erful Calabrian mafia which in the meanwhile has surpassed the Sicilian
mafia in terms of power, has established a commissione again1 which is
called crimine or provincia (Pignatone and Prestipino 2012 p. 25). These
examples are strong indicators for the organisational capacities of the ma-
1 Oral information obtained from the Italian prosecutor Antonio Ingroia during a confer-
ence at the Bundeskriminalamt in Wiesbaden (see Töttel and Büchler 2011). The existence
of such a body has been repeatedly reported since the 1990s (Paoli 1994 p. 218; Ciconte
2010 p. 182).
3. Italian mafias
This concept of mafia basically applies to all four Italian mafias (cosa
nostra in Sicily, `ndrangheta in Calabria, camorra in Campania, sacra coro-
na unita in Puglia; the latter was founded not before 1983) although there
are some limitations in the case of the camorra in Naples and Campania.2
The camorra originated from the city slums of 19th century Naples. That is
probably why it is less often built around the core of a biological family
und why it displays a relatively flat hierarchy. As a consequence fighting
for predominance is frequent and causing a high number of casualties. In
the course of the last decades, the various camorra clans killed more than
100 persons each year; in the 1980s the number of victims sometimes even
doubled. The Sicilian mafia very early looked for the services of political
allies whom in exchange it offered votes. In contrast, the camorra started to
effectively penetrate the local political system quite late in the 1980s (Al-
lum 2006 p. 160 pp.). However, as written statutes from the first half of the
19th century show the camorra had already developed a stable organisation-
al structure with initiation rites and “funds set aside for the families of
those imprisoned” (Behan 2002 p. 22).
Cosa nostra, `ndrangheta and camorra all date back to the 19th century at
least. In Sicily the rural mafia was experienced in cattle theft and protection
racket. In general it was not easy to make a distinction between the mafia
and the brigandage which plagued in particular the western and central
parts of the island at the time Franchetti undertook his expedition (Fran-
chetti 2000 p. 124; Blok 1975 p. 93). More than once the mafia placed it-
self at the side of power by helping land owners to keep peasants under
control or to avoid land reforms (Blok 1975 p. 75, 94). After the suppres-
sion during the fascist era the mafia regained control. Following the allied
landing in July 1943 some bosses (e.g. Calogero Vizzini) were appointed
mayors by the American Military administration. It remains unclear wheth-
er this happened as a reward for mafia support (Lewis 1984 p. 22) or simp-
ly because the mafia was so anti-communistic (Lupo 2004 p. 226). From
the 1950s the Sicilian mafia got involved in the construction business. By
manipulating prices and public tenders it made a lot of money from the
construction boom as well as from state investments into Southern Italy’s
infrastructure. Later the mafia opened up to drugs, mostly heroin at that
time. Located on the island it nevertheless became a global player by buy-
2 The Sicilian stidda is left aside here.
ing the basic substances at one place, refining them in Sicily and distrib-
uting the final product all over the world for sale. The range of action grew
wider and wider. The enormous profits from illegal business had to be
“washed” and channelled back into the economic cycle. The Sicilian mafia
got increasingly entangled with regular business by buying real estate, in-
vesting in tourism and holding shares. Outside Sicily, however, it is the
Calabrian `ndrangheta being underestimated for quite a while (Paoli 1994)
that became the most powerful mafia. Today it is the leading force in inter-
national drug trafficking buying cocaine from Mexican cartels on a large
scale and storing it in Africa before bringing it to Europe depending on the
market situation (Gratteri 2010 p. 129). That is how Europol Director Rob
Wainwright described the situation when presenting the Common Drug
report of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction
(EMCDDA) and Europol in January 2013: ”International drug trafficking
remains the principal activity of most organised crime groups. They are
adapting to new criminal opportunities and changing smuggling methods
and routes to evade law enforcement”.3 The report (EMCDDA and EURO-
POL 2013 p. 33, 45) is confirming the increasing importance of West Afri-
ca as a transit and storage area.
Apparently, the Calabrian gangsters have been more successful in con-
quering new territories (Varese 2011) than their Sicilian counterparts. Back
in the 1980s the `ndrangheta mainly attracted public attention by kidnap-
pings which provided the money to finance the drug trafficking of the fol-
lowing years. In the meanwhile, the `ndrangheta has also settled down in
Lombardy, the Northern Italian economic powerhouse, and even in other
parts of the world. There is a considerable number of city councils all over
Italy which had to be dissolved for mafia penetration in the last years, e.g.
in Ventimiglia (Liguria) in 2012, Bordighera (Liguria) in 2011 and in Bar-
donecchia (Piedmont) in 1995 (Varese 2011 p. 34-53; Ciconte 2010 p. 136;
Gratteri 2010 p. 92 with examples from Calabria; for Campania: Behan
2002, p. 203, 216). In October 2012 the city of Reggio Calabria was hit; the
Italian city already ranked No. 1 in the mafia index (Calderoni 2011
p. 153).4 The investigation led to the arrest of 37 `ndrangheta suspects all of
them residing in Lombardy. There are ongoing criminal proceedings
3 Illicit drugs: EU report unveils new worrying trends in smuggling and consumption,
European Commission Press release of 31 January 2013 (
release_IP-13-73_en.htm, visited 12 April 2013).
4 In the mafia index the following criteria are included: mafia-type associations, mafia
murders, city councils dissolved for Mafia infiltration, assets confiscated from organised
crime (Calderoni 2011 p. 150).
against 14 members of the Lombardic regional assembly (Consiglio Re-
gionale della Lombardia); with the exception of one politician they all be-
long to the party of Silvio Berlusconi („Popolo della libertà“) (The Econo-
mist, November 10th 2012, p. 30). The Italian state has seized a substantial
number of mafia real estates over the years, most of them in the four
Southern regions (Sicily, Campania, Calabria, Puglia) followed by the
Lombardy as the most inflicted region (Ciconte 2010 p. 199). Consequent-
ly, the mafia phenomenon cannot be reduced to Italian regions with a poor
economic performance. Instead, the dissolving of city councils and the sei-
zure of real estate show to what extent mafia groups have already succeed-
ed in penetrating the political and economic system in Italy. The “overall
presence of the Mafias in Italy” (Calderoni 2011 p. 158) is a fact that can-
not be ignored.
4. The Police
It is well-known in Germany that there is mafia in Italy but the public
does neither really differentiate between the single Italian mafias nor the
different periods of time the mafias have gone through. Despite the various
setbacks, for example, the Sicilian mafia has experienced during the last
two decades, the cosa nostra is still widely believed to be the most authori-
tative organised crime group. The police know better but withhold detailed
information, even when it comes to mafia operations in Germany. When a
few years ago an internal report of the Bundeskriminalamt on Italian mafias
operating in Germany leaked to a journalist and was used for a publication
(Reski 2010), the office refused to give comments or to make the report
available to scientists. The federal and state criminal police offices provide
some official data, primarily the annual organised crime situation reports
(Bundeskriminalamt 2011; Mayerhofer and Jehle 1996), but in general
seem to be reluctant to make organised crime a top priority issue. Given the
fact that organised crime does not pose an imminent threat to the internal
security and inadequate reports could possibly lead to dramatizing miscon-
ceptions this position is understandable, although it leaves much space for
speculation and uncertainty. In addition, the reluctance of the national po-
lice authorities can also be explained as a reaction to increasing Europol
claims for a stronger central police function that in case of organised crime
is said to be needed to tackle targets with the highest threat potential at EU
level (Europol 2013 p. 18).
After having become aware of a possible organised crime problem in
the 1970s (van Duyne and Vander Beken 2009 p. 264) the German police
have established the first investigation units specialized in organised crime
in the 1980s on local and regional levels. It was not before 1989, however,
that such a unit was installed at the Bundeskriminalamt. These steps were
certainly accelerated by the progress the Italian authorities made in uncov-
ering mafia operations and bringing them to trial in the big “Maxi-Process”
of 1986/87 (Neubacher 2002, 44) as they demonstrated the dangerous ca-
pacities of the Italian mafia. In 1992 the Bundeskriminalamt started to issue
the annual organised crime situation report that contained the number of
organised crime cases, the types of offences committed and the nationality
of the suspects inter alia. The reports were soon criticized as a mere data
collection. The critics referred to the fact that the reports were just reflect-
ing the allocation of resources, were influenced by further organisational
factors (such as specialization and control strategies) and skewed by single
complex investigations (v. Lampe 2004 p. 90 p.). In reaction to these critics
the Bundeskriminalamt turned to a more qualitative approach assessing the
organised crime potential of organised crime groups on the basis of an in-
dex which is designed to measure the “level of organisational and opera-
tional sophistication and ‘professionalism’ of criminal groups” (v. Lampe
2004 p. 92). As a result, most groups are reaching medium scores while
high scorers are a rarity.
On the European level a similar development took place. In 1993 the
European Council decided the issuance of an annual strategic report on or-
ganised crime. Since 1994 this report has been produced as the Organised
Crime Situation Report. It was criticized for “the putting together of the
national organised crime situation reports” and for “ambiguous” definitions
(van Duyne and Vander Beken 2009 p. 269). The 1997 Action Plan to
Combat Organised Crime marked a further attempt to improve the meth-
odology of the reports and the measurement of organised crime. Without
having met all these expectations the rules for the reports were changed
again only a few years later. Europol’s Organised Crime Threat Assess-
ment reports that substituted the Organised Crime Situation Reports in
2006 have shifted the focus “from the description of current and past situa-
tions to assessment of threats and risks related to future developments”
(van Duyne and Vander Beken 2009 p. 270). Moreover, they are supposed
to lead to recommendations and “policy conclusions” (van Duyne and
Vander Beken 2009 p. 272).
In Germany much attention was paid to the legal framework in the
1990s. Following heated debates (Kilchling 2004) the German Criminal
Code was amended by the Organised Crime Act (OrgKG) in 1992 and by
the Act against Money Laundering in 1993. Changes concerning the Code
of Criminal Procedure included “a wide range of new or extended investi-
gatory powers”, in particular covert surveillance methods (Kinzig and
Luczak 2004 p. 337). Notwithstanding the 2000 Palermo Convention
against Transnational Organized Crime the most recent development is the
German-Italian task force which was established following the savage
Duisburg murders in the summer of 2007. The events in Duisburg have
made unmistakably clear that Germany is not only a hideaway for mafia
fugitives or a place where they clean-wash dirty money; it is actually an
area in which the mafias operate and try to gain ground (Neubacher 2011
p. 164). Once again, no high-ranking police officer seemed to be keen to
openly speak out this fact in public. It was the former chief of the Italian
anti-mafia agency (Direzione Nazionale Antimafia), Piero Grasso, who on
the occasion of the 60th birthday of the Bundeskriminalamt in 2011 under-
lined that the six young Italians celebrating the initiation of one of them
that night in Duisburg were slaughtered by the “cellula di Kaarst”, a rival
group of `ndranghetisti living in the so named town not far from Duisburg.
Currently, there are about 2,500 officers nationwide in charge of organised
crime investigations. The anti-money laundering regulations require banks
and other financial institutions to report suspicious cases to the police as
soon as a financial transaction is surmounting the sum of EUR 15,000. In
2011 the director of the Bundeskriminalamt disclosed that only 1% of the
reports came from insurance companies, law firms and real estate brokers
although these firms are legally obliged to report like banks do. This per-
centage is shamefully low keeping in mind that almost half of the reports
lead to investigations and that roughly a third of all organised crime inves-
tigations are initiated by such reports.5 These numbers show that the fight
against organised crime is rather a matter of implementing and enforcing
existing law than creating new laws.
Lately, the Bundeskriminalamt strengthened the exchange of infor-
mation by organising international research conferences that highlight the
organised crime situation in different specific European regions (Töttel and
Büchler 2011). The domestic situation is depicted in organised crime situa-
tion reports. These annual reports are based on data from the different
states and regional police offices. Information from strategic assessment
units which have been established on the district level since 1999 is includ-
ed. According to the 2011 national report the profits that were known to be
5 Jörg Ziercke, presentation given at the 2011 conference of the Kriminologische Gesell-
schaft in Heidelberg, 29 September 2011.
gained from the offences totalled approximately EUR 347 million. The
highest profits were realized from offences associated with the business
world, followed by tax and customs offences, drug trafficking and smug-
gling (Bundeskriminalamt 2011 p. 12). The ranking based on frequency,
however, differs. By far the most common organised crime offences are
linked to the drug market; they sum up to almost 40% of all registered or-
ganised crime while economic crime has a share of about 15% (see table 1).
Table 1: Fields of crime (in %)
2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005
Drug trafficking and smuggling 36.7 39.9 40.9 38.6 37.0 35.2 34.6
Crime associated with the business world 14.8 14.5 13.0 16.9 15.4 15.1 13.7
Property Crime 13.1 11 .9 14.3 13.7 16.6 17.0 17.1
Tax and customs offences 7.6 8.4 9.2 8.0 6.1 7.6 7.7
Facilitation of illegal immigration 6.8 5.9 6.4 5.6 7.0 8.2 8.0
Crime associated with nightlife 3.6 4.5 3.5 4.9 4.7 4.5 6.9
Counterfeiting/Forgery 6.1 4.3 5.2 4.3 4.7 3.7 4.3
Violent crime 4.2 4.3 3.5 3.8 4.2 5.0 4.3
Arms trafficking and smuggling 1.2 1.2 0.3 0.7 0.7 1.0 1.4
Environmental crime 1.2 1.0 0.9 0.3 0.5 0.3 0.3
Others 1.7 4.1 2.8 3.2 3.1 2.4 1.7
Money laundering activities 35.5 39.9 29.7 32.3 28.6 28.0 29.1
Source: Bundeskriminalamt, Organisierte Kriminalität, Bundeslagebild, 2005-2011
Worth mentioning is the increasing percentage of cases with money
laundering activities. Certainly, the data has its limitations. As it only refers
to the registered offences and does not cover the dark field it may just re-
flect what is in the focus resp. in reach of the police forces. Nevertheless, in
2011 a total of 8,413 suspects of 107 different nationalities were investigat-
ed (compared to 9,632 suspects in 2010) of which 38% were German and
3.6% Italian nationals (Bundeskriminalamt 2011 p. 7).
A similar impression arises when all the 589 organised crime groups
that were active in Germany in 2011 are analysed. Almost a third of them
exclusively or predominantly consisted of German members respectively
were dominated by German nationals (174 groups). In comparison, only 29
groups were dominated by Italian nationals. With the exception of 2007
and 2008, the number of groups dominated by Italians remained quite sta-
ble over the years as it is illustrated in table 2. The main activities of the
303 suspects organised in these Italian groups in 2011 involved drug traf-
ficking and smuggling (cocaine) as well as forgery crimes. In the same year
seven organised crime investigations were directed against members of the
`ndrangheta (2010: 6 investigations), and one was directed against mem-
bers of the camorra (2010: 1 investigation). Further 13 investigations con-
cerned organised crime groups having links to members of the Italian ma-
fias. Among them cosa nostra, `ndrangheta and camorra were represented
to the same extent – with four investigations each (Bundeskriminalamt
2011 p. 23).
Table 2: Dominating nationalities within organised crime groups (number of groups)
2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005
German 174 182 132 161 181 208 219
Turkish 64 75 80 81 77 73 72
Italian 29 30 30 18 19 26 31
Russian 21 23 25 28 23 30 18
Polish 23 21 26 33 35 30 34
Vietnamese 24 21 15 14 11 14 14
Nigerian 18 19 23 19 20 11 13
Libanese 19 18 17 19 13 10 11
Serbian 13 18 9 12 196 25 24
Romanian 19 16 19 20 20 13 13
Source: Bundeskriminalamt, Organisierte Kriminalität, Bundeslagebild, 2005-2011
It is beyond doubt that the Italian mafias have bases in Germany that are
more than just hideaways, e.g. in Stuttgart and Munich, in the Rhine-Main
region, in the Ruhr region, in Berlin, and in parts of Eastern Germany
(Reski 2010; Ulrich 2005). Analysing data from the Italian Parliamentary
Anti-Mafia Commission inter alia, Campana concluded that across 22 Eu-
ropean Union member states Germany belongs to the countries “with a
larger presence of Italian mafias” (36 cities, compared to 20 in Spain and
11 in France) (Campana 2013). Main activities are money laundering and
forgery crimes; the protection racket does not seem to play a central role. In
June 2013 Europol submitted a threat assessment report on Italian organ-
ised crime according to which the ‘ndrangheta, the camorra, and even Apu-
lian organised crime groups are all present in the Netherlands, Germany
and Switzerland inter alia (Europol 2013 p. 3).
6 Until 2007 the numbers refer to serbian-montenegrin groups.
5. Criminology
German Criminology did not pay attention to the phenomenon of the
Italian mafias until 1970 when a book titled “Mafia“ was published by a
German sociologist (Hess 1970). For the time after his publication different
phases can be distinguished, each of them corresponding to a dominant per-
spective in criminological studies on the mafia. During the first phase in the
1970s there was a strong sociological perspective (Hess 1970; Blok 1975).
It rejected the idea that the mafia was an organisation with hierarchies and
a kind of formal “membership”. These sociologists blamed the media for
what they thought were popular misconceptions of the mafia. They charac-
terized the mafioso as an independent entrepreneur who offered his violent
capacities as service to anybody willing to pay for it. For Anton Blok (1975
p. 7, 51) e.g. mafia was “a sentiment rather than an organization“ and a
“modus vivendi“. In the same line was Hess’ reasoning that “mafia is not
an organisation or a secret society, but a method” (Hess 1993 p. 134).7 And
when speaking of mafia in his study on “mafia business“ even the Italian
sociologist Pino Arlacchi just meant an “ensemble” of various autonomous
groups connected by familial or relational bonds (Arlacchi 1989 p. 56).
This view was closely intertwined with the tendency to interpret all mafia
activities in the light of a business perspective by referring to markets, cus-
tomers resp. consumers, and goods (Gambetta 1993).
This perspective may have had its strengths on the micro-sociological
level when the cosca, the core of a mafia family, and the surrounding parti-
to, its network, were to be explained (cf. Arlacchi 1989 p. 56 pp., 133 pp.;
Hess 1993 p. S. 82 pp.). But in doing so the macro-sociological context was
neglected and so were relevant questions for the far-reaching political con-
nections and the higher ranks of the organisation. Concerning these issues
the Italian investigators made significant progress just from the mid 1980s
when they gradually succeeded in persuading mafiosi (pentiti) to drop out
and collaborate with the justice authorities. Italian sociologists carefully
observed these developments and revised some of their former assessments.
It is revealing what Pino Arlacchi (2000, Introduzione p. VII pp.) wrote:
In una limpida mattina del luglio 1984, in una stanza del Tribunale di Palermo,
Giovanni Falcone mi annunciò che i miei studi sul fenomeno mafioso, da lui
considerati fino allora come la fonte di ispirazione principale delle sue indagini,
erano errati in un punto cruciale: nella categorica esclusione dell’esistenza della
7 Own translation.
mafia come società segreta. (..) La mia risposta fu che la letteratura scientifica
sul tema – in Italia e negli Stati Uniti – era pressoché unanime nell’escludere
l’esistenza della ‘mafia’ intesa in quei termini. (…) Falcone replicò con un
sorriso e con una facile profezia. Il sorriso si referiva alla sua personale
padronanza degli strumenti di accertamento della verità a disposizione di un
giudice istruttore. La profezia fu che, una volta diventate pubbliche per effetto
della cessazione del segreto istruttorio, le ‘carte’ a sua disposizione mi
avrebbero convinto che mi ero sbagliato, assieme a tutti i miei illustri colleghi,
sulla definizione della natura stessa della mafia. L’incontro si concluse con una
scommessa che mi impegnava a riscrivere, nel caso di sconfitta, il mio volume
su La mafia imprenditrice pubblicato pochi mesi prima. (…) Ho impiegato
sette anni per ammettere di avere commesso un errore di superbia intellettuale,
prima ancora che di analisi applicata. (…) I siciliani e gli italiani conoscevano
degli individui e dei piccolo gruppi di potere che venivano chiamati ‘mafiosi’.
Più volte, nei documenti giudiziari dell’epoca successiva all’unificazione
italiana, sono state messe sotto accusa varie ‘associazioni di malfattori’ ed
‘associazioni per delinquere’ etichettate sotto il nome di ‘mafia’ e ‘mafie’. Ma
non e mai venuta alla luce, prima che Buscetta decidesse di ‘parlare’ a Falcone,
la fisionomia di un’unica società criminale, con riti di iniziazione, norme e
statute nata della Sicilia Occidentale denominata ‘Cosa Nostra’ e trapiantata in
altre regioni italiane e all’estero fin dall’inizio del ‘900.
Other scholars were also critical of Hess’ analysis from the year 1970
(e.g. Lupo 2004 p. 36 and p. 66 footnote 16; Allum 2006 p. 10). In any
case, it is irritating and hard to believe that in the 1990s, still after the
“Maxi-Process” of 1986/86 that became possible because of Buscetta’s
confessions, some German authors deemed it necessary to teach their Ital-
ian colleagues that there was no such organisation like the mafia. In the
postscriptum of the 1993 edition of “Mafia”, Hess (1993 p. 197) adhered to
his idea that there may be some sort of organisation but not the organisa-
tion. Minimizing the relevance of the pentiti statements he wiped them off
as being strongly influenced by novels, movies, television, and the theories
presented by the investigating authorities. He spoke of a “circular interplay
of myth and reality” (Hess 1993 p. 197).8 It does not seem far-fetched to
regard this an auto-immunisation against reasonable doubts. What certainly
deserves no further discussion is an opinion voiced by critical criminology
(Manns 1999 p. 265) that there is no scientific evidence for the existence of
the mafia phenomenon. The opposite holds true, and the German Federal
Government was completely right when it stated in the 2006 Security Re-
port that in the case of the mafia the existence of traditional organised
8 Own translation.
crime groups can be considered as scientifically verified (Bundesministeri-
um des Innern and Bundesministerium der Justiz 2006, p. 444). Searching
for the reasons for the severe misconception of the so-called critical crimi-
nology one can firstly assume that at a time when the legal framework was
extended in the fight against organised crime some were unwilling to ac-
cept findings that would legitimate further toughening of the criminal law.
Secondly, it may have resulted in an information gap since German re-
searchers did not have access to the most recent data – neither from actual
police operations nor from original scientific literature written in a foreign
As we have seen before, criminology today is again referring to organi-
sational aspects what partly corresponds to a traditional approach that in the
1960s had pointed to hierarchies, structures, and rules. Despite of this, there
will be no way back to the fear of a global secret association or a foreign
criminal conspiracy to infiltrate the political institutions. The mafia is no
state within the state. Like a parasite it is living on the expenses of the host
society with which it maintains close political and business relations. The
economic perspective which was prominent throughout the 1980s saw or-
ganised crime as an enterprise, as a flexible supplier on a market for illegal
goods and services driven just by the pursuit of money. This view did nei-
ther take into consideration the organisational capacities of the mafia, nor
the fact that mafia is a social phenomenon. If a certain mentality is left
aside, the problem of clientelism (Müller 1991 p. 79 pp., 117 pp.) is under-
estimated, and the “respect” is not taken into account which youngsters
expect from underworld contacts, the multi-faceted mafia phenomenon
cannot be understood properly. Currently, a third perspective is quite strong
considering mafias as collective social networks founded rather on personal
relations than on hierarchies. In the end, however, there is no need to take a
decision for one of the competing views because they just focus on differ-
ent aspects of the same phenomenon. Only an integrated approach is able to
embrace all the relevant aspects (Spapens 2010 p. 186, 195).
Apart from having worked on the terminological and conceptual issues
of organised crime (v. Lampe 1999; Möhn 2008) German criminologists
also conducted empirical studies. Ohlemacher tried to find out whether res-
taurant owners in Germany were confronted with the protection racket.
Based on a postal survey with an unsatisfying response rate of 12% he ba-
sically found no confirmation for this assumption; the percentage among
Italians was low (4%, Ohlemacher 1998 p. 54). However, it remained un-
clear whether this finding resulted from the applied methods or whether it
could be interpreted as evidence for the absence of the protection racket. In
the aftermath of the 2007 Duisburg murders more than 50 cases were re-
ported to the police in Berlin in which foreign restaurateurs had been intim-
idated and tried to extort money from. Again, it was not clear whether an
organised crime group was behind it or just copycats trying to make some
money with the uncertainty after the killings. In a thorough study examin-
ing 52 organised crime investigations from Southern Germany, Kinzig
(2004) broadly confirmed the overall picture as it is reflected in the organ-
ised crime situation reports of the police. He found that only 4% of the sus-
pects but 15% of the sentenced were Italian nationals and that no convic-
tion could be based on § 129 German Criminal Code (Forming criminal
organisations) as the legal requirements were too high (Kinzig 2004 p. 283,
557, 572). In 2011, a book on the `ndrangetha was published (Dietz 2011)
that compiled some of the findings made so far. Recent studies show that
sometimes mafias are forced to leave their territory, e.g. as a result of law
enforcement or internal conflicts (Varese 2011 p. 8, 190). In these cases,
the moving is better understood as adaptation than as expansion. In such
cases Mafia families are not able to simply transfer their business practices.
Analysing the case of a camorra family of which some members had emi-
grated to Amsterdam and Aberdeen Campana (2011 p. 219, 225) demon-
strated that they carried out certain operations familiar to them, in particular
drug trafficking, but were unable to establish a protection racket what led to
a “diversification” of their operations.
6. Media and policymakers
Are media representations, particularly those in the movies and the
newspapers, really responsible for having created a mafia myth? And are
law makers and politicians then just chasing a phantom? This would be an
exaggerated view. Admittedly, popular movies like “The Godfather” have
received praise in Mafia circles for the way they portrayed the “men of
honour” and for the identification models they offered (Vorauer 1996 p.
114; Dietz 2008 p. 133). They may even have influenced some mafia be-
haviour (Vorauer 1996 p. 11). But at the same time the example of “The
Godfather” trilogy shows that a movie representation can indeed reflect real
events and real mafia characteristics, e.g. certain codes of behaviour (Neu-
bacher 2004 p. 317). In the end, we are facing a mutual dependency of real-
ity and fiction that is hard to disentangle and makes it impossible to reduce
the mafia to a myth.
In Germany organised crime is not as hotly debated in the mass media
as it was in the 1990s when the fall of the iron curtain had sparked fears of
migrant criminals and crime syndicates coming from the east. However, the
media coverage was very intense after the Duisburg murders. For several
weeks the `ndrangheta and Italian organised crime groups were top news
on the frontpages of the print media and on all TV channels. Most newspa-
pers tackled a broad range of questions describing in detail how the investi-
gations were proceeding, what the `ndrangheta is, what kind of links exist-
ed to the murder victims, how organised crime is making money and wash-
ing it. The daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung noted the Italian mafia is
heading for Germany (“Italienische Mafia zieht es nach Deutschland”, 16
August 2007), while the Süddeutsche Zeitung characterized organised
crime as noiseless and efficient, having succeeded in becoming a part of the
legitimate economy (“Geräuschlos und effizient – wie es der organisierten
Kriminalität gelungen ist, Teil der normalen Wirtschaft zu werden”, 17
August 2007). Many articles relied on interviews with experts from Italy
(e.g. Piero Grasso, Nicola Gratteri, Roberto Scarpinato). Some papers also
focused more on the long-lasting feud between the two rival clans from the
Calabrian town of San Luca. The Bonn General-Anzeiger (17 August) re-
ferred to a bloody feud that started with throwing some eggs (“Die blutige
Fehde begann mit ein paar Eierwürfen”), a report in the news magazine
DER SPIEGEL (20 August) was titled “Vendetta am Rhein”. And as bold
and simple as usual, the yellow paper BILD (of 16 August) just stated “Aus
diesem Dorf kommt das Böse” (transl.: the evil is coming from this vil-
lage). Somehow it appears remarkable that Italian experts were favoured by
the media over German prosecutors or criminologists. One year after the
killings it was the German journalist Petra Reski who filled a dossier in the
weekly DIE ZEIT that was peppered with information taken from the inter-
nal report of the Bundeskriminalamt and that depicted a map of `ndran-
gheta bases in Germany. 61 restaurants are said to be controlled by the
Pelle-Romeo clan to which the Duisburg victims belonged, half of them
being located in North Rhine Westphalia (Reski 2010 p. 52).
The German civil society reacted to the Duisburg crime by founding an
anti-mafia initiative called „Mafia? Nein danke!“ demanding a tougher and
harmonized legislation on a European level (see Calderoni 2010). In fact
unlike Italian law, German law does not provide an instrument to order the
payment of a sum of money the amount of which shall be limited by the
value of the offender’s assets since such a confiscatory expropriation order
(§ 43a German Criminal Code) was ruled unconstitutional and void by the
Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) in 2002 (cf.
Kilchling 2004 p. 724). As the judicial interpretation of § 129 German
Criminal Code (Forming criminal organisations) is very restrictive and, as
we have seen too, few cases are reported under the money laundering legis-
lation it may be worth discussing the efficiency of the legal framework
when it comes to mafias. Yet, at the time of the writing there were no par-
liamentary discussions of that kind.
The public debate is suffering from the fact that a commonly accepted
definition of “mafia” and “organized crime” is still missing. This is all the
more painful as on the European level there are claims for a stronger cen-
tral police function in organised crime cases. Scientists have proposed that
a definition should draw on key elements such as continuity, hierarchy, use
of force, membership, illegal enterprises, penetration of legitimate business,
and corruption. Mafia in turn should be regarded as a special sub-category
of organised crime based on a territory over which effective control is exer-
cised. It maintains contacts with relevant persons from politics and society
and usually displays considerable organizational capacities. The Calabrian
‘ndrangheta is said to have surpassed the Sicilian mafia in terms of power.
It has become a leading force in international drug trafficking and can be
found in many European countries, in particular in Germany, the Nether-
lands and Switzerland. In 2007 the Duisburg massacre demonstrated in
quite a drastic way that the ‘ndrangheta is operating in some regions of
Germany. This serious crime led to more police cooperation and to an in-
creased awareness of the public but caused no political debate. While it
seems advisable that police and science better cooperate in conceptualizing
and assessing mafia phenomena the public is mostly linking mafia to hier-
archical syndicates instead of linking it (what would be more realistic) to
networks primarily involved in drug trafficking, money laundering, and
economic crime. This perception can be described as distorted but police
and politicians apparently do not want to bother the public with too many
detailed information on mafia activities. Whatever the public’s estimation
is, unlike in Franchetti’s Sicily, the trust in police and the political institu-
tions remains relatively high.
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Godfathers, dark glasses, and pasta: discussing
British perceptions of Italian Mafias
by Felia Allum
“If the doors of perception were cleansed every
thing would appear to man as it is, [...]”
William Blake
This article seeks to discuss British perceptions of Italian Mafias, in par-
ticular, those of the academic world, the press and the police. It does not
seek to enter into the debate about the definitions of organised crime and
Italian Mafias, but draw out their perceptions in the UK. It would appear
that the perceptions of Italian Mafias still remain the traditional ones, pro-
duced mainly by gangster films, TV series and popular novels. This is a
worrying sign because it means that it becomes difficult to see what Italian
Mafias are really doing in Italy, Europe and the UK.
Keywords: Italian Mafias, British perception of Italian Mafias, Mafia,
Italia, U.K
Perceptions1 of social realities are more often than not distorted, since
they are created by sensationalist images and set narratives of the media,
novels and films (see Gerbner et al, 1980). Yet subjective perceptions, how-
ever misinformed are important, and at times dangerous because they can
influence the political agenda and policy-makers (Meyer and Miskimmon,
2009). For example2, twenty years ago in 1993, the two killers of the
Dr. Felia Allum lecturer in Italian History and politics, University of Bath,
1For the purpose of this article, I will define social 'perception' using a structuralist ap-
proach which defines social perception in the following terms: 'perceptions drive from ele-
mentary sensations'; they are 'data driven' (Zebrowitz, 1990: 4). In other words, the percep-
tions which citizens have of the world are created by their own sensations, visions, pictures,
sensitivities, understanding, education of the world.
2 Another example, is the introduction of the death penalty which regularly appears as a
news topic because public perception is that certain sentences are too kind.
Liverpudlian toddler James Bulger were sentenced to 8 years in prison. A
year later, however, the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, reacting to the
demands of a petition organised by the Tabloid daily, The Sun, increased
their sentence from 8 years to 15 years as their sentence had been perceived
by the general public as being too lenient for their crime. In this way, per-
ceptions continuously influence and construct social reality, even though
they might be built upon inaccurate or distorted images and sensations. As
Jussim explains 'social perception is a major force in the creation (construc-
tion) of social reality' (1991: 54).
This is a point to emphasise when trying to establish how much we
know about Italian Mafia1 in the UK and whether or not mafias are present
and active here. This articles does not seek to enter into the debate about
the definitions of organised crime and Italian Mafias but discuss and ana-
lyse their perceptions in the UK. However, a brief survey of the existing
British discourse on organised crime would clearly show that this discourse
has greatly evolved in the post war period: from notions of 'gangland' activ-
ities and 'underworld' managed by the Kray brothers in London (Levi,
2004) to being perceived as the new danger replacing the Communist threat
after the fall of the Berlin wall to being associated with the influx of new
EU members. Organised crime has thus often been presented, on the one
hand, as a national security threat while at the same time, it is argued that in
Britain it is now 'normalised' or in the words of Hobbs 'during the past three
decades the penetration of market forces into British society has enabled
the normalisation of individualistic and predatory relationships, and a
whole range of illegal trades has thrived as a means of acquiring and trans-
acting capital in the void left by legal employment, organised labour, and
the enabling institutions of industrial culture (2012: 234).
Moreover, neither foreign organised crime groups2 nor native British
groups challenge the State as they do in Italy but they nevertheless, under-
1For the purpose of this article, Italian mafias are defined as criminal orgnisations
whose: ‘[...] subjects belonging to it make use of the strength stemming from the associative
link and of condition of subjection and of omertà in order to commit crimes, in order to
acquire directly or indirectly the control over economic businesses, grants, licenses, con-
tracts and public works or in order to make unfair profits or advantages for themselves or for
other persons’ (art. 416bis Italian Penal Code).
2 In relation to studying Italian mafias, Nicaso and Lamothe (2005) have previously
made clear that studying Italian mafias does not mean 'smearing the reputation' of the hun-
dreds of thousands – or millions – of law-abiding people of the country in which a criminal
organisation operates' (p. 4) or the immigrants in new countries; 'the focus is only on the
very, very, very few who engage in organised crime' (ibid).
mine local communities with their illegal activities, violence, arms, drugs,
and money laundering. If our understanding of Italian Mafias is based pre-
dominantly on perceptions, then there may be a problem. Indeed, if the
prevailing British perception of Italian Mafias is completely out-of-date, it
could even be argued that the UK, like other West European countries, has
become an 'attractive' location for mafiosi. Michele Siciliano3 believes that
it was his shrewdness which prevented the local police from understanding
that the Camorra was present in Aberdeen. He states 'not least because they
[the local police] are used to a different environment, they don't have a clue
about us. And so it should be. [...] they are not used to fighting Italian Ma-
fias' (2011: 12). In other words, in the UK there is still relatively little un-
derstanding of Italian Mafias. Moreover, a lack of investigations, means
that general perceptions tend to rely on traditional stereotypes. As yet, there
appear to be still be very few investigations initiated by the British police4
into Italian Mafias in the UK and so far, there have been limited assets con-
fiscated from Italian Mafias in the UK5. We still know very little about the
true nature of the presence and activities of Italian Mafias in the UK. As
one high ranking police officer noted ‘there are gaps in the intelligence that
need filling, particularly gaps in our intelligence around the kind of interna-
tional organized groups that are hitting the UK, including Italian groups
[…] ‘Ndrangheta, Camorra, Mafia’ (2012).
Nicola Gratteri, investigating magistrate of the Anti-Mafia prosecution
service in Reggio Calabria, highlighted this point when he argued: ‘The
foreign authorities say that in their country nothing happens, this is because
they believe that a crime takes place only when you have a dead body on
the floor, gun shots against the shutters and burnt out cars' (2012: 323). In
other words, Mafias are perceived only when they acts as violent, bloody
and visible; they are associated with images of cut-off fingers or horse's
heads. While this might have been the case in 1950s Sicily, Italian Mafias
are now modern businesses with traditional values that are powerful and
visible in Italy whereas abroad they become invisible and infiltrate the legal
3A member of the La Torre clan from Mondragone (Naples) who spent 16 years in the
4There are still only a handful of investigations initiated by the Spanish, Dutch, French
and German police into Italian mafias active in their country although more are starting to
take place.
5In March 2013, the Anti-Mafia Prosecution service (DDA) from Catanzaro seized as-
sets from a suspected money launderer for the 'Ndrangheta in Northern Ireland as well as in
Tunisia and Cyprus (see 'Operation Metropolis' in Gradham, 2013).
In order to achieve a general picture of the way Italian Mafias are per-
ceived, this article looks at several groups: firstly the general public and its
perception of organised crime, secondly British academia; thirdly the police
and lastly the press, before coming to a conclusion. One could argue, quite
rightly to a certain extent, that this article does not add new results or
knowledge to the debate and is a mere opinion piece. However, it is more
than this, it is a fresh look at the terms 'Italian mafias' in NEXIS newspaper
database and it is an analysis of a small sample of questionnaires and in-
depth interviews with police officers to try and gauge the nature of British
perceptions of Italian Mafias. The material presented here is work in pro-
gress on Italian Mafias in Europe, including discussions with British and
Italian law enforcement agencies, journalists and academics as well as with
my undergraduate and postgraduate students who have contributed greatly
to this investigation6.
1. British Perceptions of Organised Crime
In November 2011, Eurobarometer published a special report on 'Inter-
nal Security' (EC, 2011). This report sought to establish the perceived
'threats and challenges to EU security' and provides us with a good and re-
alistic overview of citizens' perceptions. The three main perceived chal-
lenges to EU security were (1) the financial crises (34%); (2) terrorism
(33%); (3) organised crime (21%) and (4) poverty (18%) (2011: 118). The
UK citizens' perceptions of organised crime were in line with those of the
European population in general. Austria is the one country which identified
organised crime as the top challenge (44%) while it was perceived as a
smaller challenge by respondents in France (7%), Estonia (8%) and Poland
(11%). In all cases, organised crime was ranked amongst the top five chal-
lenges to EU and national security (EC, 2011).
6 This research has been on-going since 2009. It is clear that more concrete and system-
atic research has to be undertaken in this area. The methodology adopted here has been to
analyse various material: for the section on academia, a reflection of the current debates and
their impact on perceptions was developed. For the section on the press, an analysis of
newspapers articles from the Nexis archive was developed as well the on-going reflection of
discussions with journalists (who requested to remain anonymous). Lastly, for the section on
the police, interviews with police officers working in this areas as well as a small survey
were analysed. Many of those cited in this article (police officers and journalists) have either
requested to remain anonymous and this has been respected or have been questioned anon-
Organised crime was ranked by 20% of UK citizens as the third most
important threat to EU security and the second most important threat (25%)
to national security, after terrorism (47%). This is similar to Italy which
ranked the economic crisis (44%) first and organised crime (31%) (EC,
2011: 1097). The UK general public does not stick out as having an unreal-
istic perception of organised crime. since it is clearly perceived as a similar
challenge or threat to that of terrorism but this does not help us to under-
stand what kind of perception the British have of Italian Mafias.
These 2011 EU findings are very similar to those of the Home Office in
2009, which found that 'the public recognises that serious organised crime
is a significant problem [...] 84 per cent of respondents said that it was a
very or fairly big problem in the UK, with one in three thinking it was a
problem where they live' (2009: 9). Indeed, '70% per cent of the survey
respondents agreed that the harm caused by organised crime is extremely
serious or very serious, while 67% per cent of respondents thought there
was more organised crime when the interviews were conducted in 2006
than there had been two years previously' (Campbell, 2013: 59). The doc-
ument stated further that 'almost one in two respondents in social groups D
(semi or unskilled manual workers) and E (unemployed), feel serious or-
ganised crime is a problem in their local area' (2009:10). However, one po-
lice officer questioned these findings: '[…] I read yesterday in the last
Home Office document about [fighting organised crime] people perceived
organised crime, as a local and a national threat and I'd like to see
how...[they came to this conclusion] or who they did their opinion poll on,
because I think that everybody would say organised crime isn't a problem
because it is not something that you feel on a daily basis, whereas your
shed being broken into or your garage being vandalised is something else'
(12/10/09). Moreover, British respondents had a clear sense that the threat
of organised crime would increase in the future in the EU: 62% compared
with 47% in Italy (highest 82% Cyprus and lowest 28% Bulgaria). It was
noted that the older member states thought that crime would rise together
with the enlargement of the European Union. Indeed, 57% of Europeans
think that organised crime will become an increasing challenge for EU se-
curity (EC, 2011: 119).
Thus, there is some evidence to suggest that UK citizens are not particu-
larly misinformed and that they have a general perception of the threat
which organised crime poses, but this understanding hardly embraces the
7UK: threats to national security: 41% terrorism, 25% organised crime and 24% eco-
nomic crisis.
Mafia, which continues to be presented in the media (The Godfather,
Goodfellas, The Sopranos, Gomorrah, Mobs' wives, etc) as the traditional,
violent, family-based group. A group of undergraduate and postgraduate
students at an English university, for example, articulate classic perceptions
of Italian Mafias, in other words, traditional images from films and novels.
This romantic perception of the Italian Mafia means that it is seen as some-
thing aloof and remote from British society. Therefore, it is not perceived to
be part of British reality or a British law enforcement problem.
2. British Academic Perceptions
Academics continuously contribute to the construction of social percep-
tion and at the same time, are called upon to help in the development of
policy. They are, thus, key informed players but at the same time, they have
a theoretical position. They are thus, not neutral nor objectives as Enzens-
berger noted about ethnologists: 'but the real hindrance to research was the
researcher himself, together with his discipline. It was this, like everything
else that the ethnologist brought with him – his gaze, his standards, his
prejudices, his language – which placed itself between him and what he
wanted to investigate and so he ran the risk of bringing home only dead
facts and living errors. […] it is not surprising therefore that […] the booty
of anthropological research consists of European fancies. It's our own re-
flection that perpetually appears on the projection screen of science; only
we have no desire to recognize ourselves in it' (1990: 18). All academics
develop their rhetoric around their ideological and philosophical positions
as can be clearly seen in the different Mafia studies, but this also creates
social perception of a phenomenon.
In the post war period, both American (Blok, 1979; Chubb 1989; Stille,
1996) and British (Walston, 1986; Duggan, 1989) academics have sought to
understand Italian Mafias and their natural habitat, the Mezzogiorno region.
If we look at the multi-disciplinary academic literature on Italian Mafias,
we can make a clear distinction between the American and the British
schools. The American school of Italian Mafia studies is clearly shaped and
influenced by the cultural approach, but has also developed a much more
hands-on empirical methodology. The British school of Italian Mafia stud-
ies on the other hand, has retained a very rational approach and is more
pragmatic in its fieldwork.
Since the 1950s, American scholars have continuously undertaken
fieldwork in order elaborate their research. For example, Edward Banfield
(1967), a political scientist, visited 'Montegrano', a town in the South of
Italy in 1955 and reached conclusions about the nature of Italian society
which produced Mafia families. While his fieldwork is interesting, in his
findings he developed the notion of 'amoral familism' which has since been
identified with Southern Italy and may be responsible for many stereotypes
and simplifications. On the other hand, Jane and Peter Schneider (1976),
anthropologists, spent two years in Sicily, in 1965, studying Sicilian civil
society, the economy and the political system, in order to explain the Mafia.
They put together different lenses (historic, economic, and anthropological)
to find explanations. More recently, Jason Pine (2012) has wandered into
the world of the Neapolitan Neomelodia and discovered that this murky
music business is full of semi-legal individuals who also frequent camorris-
ti and identify with Camorra values (such as honour, omertà, violence, rep-
utation, respect). He frequented concerts and spent time in down town Na-
ples in order to pick up on the subtleties of the Camorra phenomenon, and
go beyond perhaps the easy stereotypes of money, violence and vice. His
narrative draws out all the different aspects of a chaotic and complex phe-
British-based academics have been less ambitious in their fieldwork.
While it is clear that both Tom Behan (1996) and John Dickie (2009) un-
derstand the phenomenon that they analyse and describe in their popular
books, they have not undertaken extensive field work but rather have de-
pended heavily on already existing Italian texts. Thus, they replicate an
Italian-flavoured narrative of the Neapolitan Camorra, the Sicilian Mafia
and the Calabrian Ndrangheta rather than developing their own theoretical
approach and understanding. In this way, they do not propagate any new
stereotypes but rather confirm already existing Italian perspectives. How-
ever, Diego Gambetta, previously an Oxford-based Sociology Professor,
made a major contribution to our understanding of the Sicilian Mafia when
he published his study, The Sicilian Mafia, in 1993. In his book, inspired by
Leopoldo Franchetti's writings, he proposed a new analysis to analysing the
Sicilian Mafia based on a rational choice approach: in his words 'the market
is therefore rational in the sense that there are people who find it in their
individual interests to buy mafia protection' (1993: 2). He conceives of the
Mafia as 'a specific economic enterprise, an industry which produces, pro-
motes and sells private protection' (1993: 1) because there is a lack of trust
in the state and among its citizens, which in turn creates a demand and
market for private protection. Citizens thus buy protection and assurances
from the Mafia, even to avoid potential threats. This has been a very help-
ful approach in conceiving of the Mafia and its activities.
Many of Gambetta's students have gone on to apply his approach to oth-
er criminal groups such as the Russian Mafia (Varese, 2001) and Japanese
Yakuza (Hill, 2003). It could also be argued that this approach has its limi-
tations in that it does not explain many of the more modern aspects of the
Mafia and its activities although in order to render it more relevant, all Ma-
fia activities are explained in terms of its providing private protection. But,
it also underlines the importance of violence used by the Mafia because
protection is violence. However, he believes that the Mafia provides protec-
tion to citizens as a willing and not a forced act; this might sometimes be
the case but it is not so systematic so. This approach also does not explain
or analyse the diverse activities that Mafias now engage in: the production
and selling of counterfeit goods, toxic waste management, cigarette smug-
gling and drug trafficking, for example.
This approach has also been used to analyse the mobility of Italian Ma-
fias in the form of Varese's 'property rights theory of mafia emergence'
(2011: 12) and Campana's notion of 'functional diversification' (2011). Both
authors seek to explain how Italian Mafias at home sell private protection
and how they seek to do the same abroad ('transplant' as suggested by Vare-
se) or if they cannot, as suggested by Campana, for the case of the La Torre
clan, they undertake 'functional diversification' (2011). In other words,
criminal groups change activities according to the territory they are active
in, but always in relation to providing 'private protection'. While these are
interesting reflections and analysis, they are underpinned by the notion of
Mafias as exclusive providers of private protection and this has become a
strong perception, especially with law enforcement agencies across the
In short, British academics have contributed greatly to our understand-
ing of Italian Mafias but without more extensive research and fieldwork,
we will remained trapped in our simple theoretical positions when reality is
more complex. Italian Mafias have so far been identified as either cultural
or rational phenomenon and these have become our accepted perceptions,
you only need to ask a class of students to see their response. And, yet we
need to analyse the complexities of Italian Mafias more deeply.
3. British Media Perceptions of Italian Mafias
The role of the media is key to perception building, as editors and re-
porters create and fuel the images, slogans, snap- shots that stick in the
public's mind, even if they are constructed on false information. We forget
how newspapers play an invisible and yet a fundamental role in influencing
and shaping the public's perception of a social phenomenon. In other
words, newspapers continuously feed, shape, influence, project, programme
the collective picture which a society has of a phenomenon. It is also clear
that newspaper editors have their own political agenda, they have their own
ideas and their own set message, which they seek to communicate to the
general public. This is very visible in the British press where the division
between left-wing broadsheets and right-wing tabloids is very clear.
The power of the British press is also very visible in newspaper articles
on organised crime and mafias. For example, in a previous comparative
study of British and German newspaper articles on organised crime (1999-
2009) (Young and Allum, 2012), it was concluded that German articles on
organised crime were more factual, impartial, on average shorter (p. 155)
compared to British articles. They were also located nearer the front page
of the paper; this indicates that they were considered important by the edi-
tor rather than being lost at the back of the paper. German articles also had
a tendency to draw attention to the nationality of suspects much more than
British articles.
On the other hand, British articles tended to present the question of or-
ganised crime as 'an international problem' rather than a national security
question with the exception of the Daily Mail (Mail on Line). Unlike most
other British newspapers, the Daily Mail reports news and facts on Italian
Mafias but always manages to highlight the implications for the UK. For
example, they reported a 'former judge faces 'mafia money- laundering'
charges as he and three other Britons are extradited… in London' (27/5/12).
This is an interesting and important exercise. However, there is always an
underlying simplification and a reliance on stereotypes. For example, 'four
arrested after violence erupts in Britain's most Italian town following Eng-
land's defeat to Italy in Euro 2012' (Mail on line, 25/6/12), whereby the
article made allusion to the fact that Bedford had an important Italian
community and could not help making reference to the Mafia: 'Bedford is
like 40% Italian Mafia, so England vs Italy should be interesting here'. All
in all, the British press still perceive Italian Mafias as not impacting on civ-
il society in the UK.
An analysis8 of the representation of 'Italian Mafias' in all UK newspa-
pers comes out with some interesting findings: over 30 years, these words
8 Based on an analysis of the newspaper archive Nexis: the different terms of interest
were looked up, over 30 years and over 1 year (26 april 2012- 26 april 2013) in UK News-
were mentioned in 759 articles (in local and national newspapers9), that is
roughly 25 articles a year. However, over the last year (26 april 2012- 26
april 2013) the term 'Italian Mafia' appeared in 43 articles10 while the word
'Camorra' appeared in 90 articles11, the 'Ndrangheta' in 56 articles12 and
'Sicilian Mafia' in 52 articles13. On closer inspection, we can see that each
papers (described as The "UK Newspaper Stories" group file contains the content of all
Newspapers carried on LexisNexis that are published in the United Kingdom (England,
Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales). The option 'high similarity' was also activated: On -
High similarit documents must be nearly identical in order for the service to include them in
the same group of similar documents.
9 Number of articles/newspapers including the word 'Italian Mafia' (main newspapers)
over 30 years – 759 articles:
The Independent (London) (74) The Times (London) (71) The Guardian (London) (66)
The Mirror and The Sunday Mirror (52) Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday (50) The Sunday
Times (London) (37) The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday (36) The Evening Standard
(London) (30)Northcliffe Newspapers (29) The Sun (27) Daily Record and Sunday Mail
(23) The Observer (22) Belfast Telegraph (19) The Daily Telegraph (London) (17) The
Herald (Glasgow) (16) The Sunday Express (12) Daily Star Sunday (11) The Express
Newspapers (10) The Express (8) Sunday Herald (8) UK News Quest Regional Press (8) (7) Irish News (6) Newcastle Chronicle and Journal Ltd. Publications (6)
Sunday Life (6) The Sunday Telegraph (London) (6) i - Independent Print Ltd (5) The News
of the World* (5) The European* (4) The Independent Extra* (4) Irish Examiner (4) The
People (4) (Nexis, University of Bath, 26/4/13).
10Number of articles/newspapers including the word 'Italian Mafia' (main newspapers)
between 26 april 2012 and 26 april 2013 (43): The Daily Telegraph (London) (6) The Ex-
press (3) The Guardian (London) (3) i - Independent Print Ltd (3) The Sun (3) The Sunday
Times (London) (3) (2) Metro (UK) (2) The Mirror and The Sunday Mirror
(2) Newcastle Chronicle and Journal Ltd. publications (2) News Letter (2) The Observer (2)
The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday (2) Belfast Telegraph (1) Daily Star (1) Derby Even-
ing Telegraph (1) The Independent (London) (1) Irish Examiner (1) Scottish Express (1) The
Sunday Express (1) Sunday Life (1) (Nexis, University of Bath, 26/4/13).
11Number of articles/newspaper including the word 'Camorra' (main newspapers) – 90
articles: i - Independent Print Ltd (15) The Sunday Times (London) (15) The Independent
(London) (14) The Mirror and The Sunday Mirror (11) The Guardian (London) (9) The Sun
(9) The Times (London) (8) The Daily Telegraph (London) (7) The Observer (6) The Sunday
Telegraph (London) (5) Belfast Telegraph (3) Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday (3) The Peo-
ple (3) Sunday Business Post (3) (2) (Nexis, University of Bath, 26/4/13).
12Number of article/newspapers including the word 'ndrangheta' (main newspapers) - 56
articles: The Daily Telegraph (London) (8) The Guardian (London) (6) The Independent
(London) (6) The Times (London) (6) (5) The Sun (4) i - Independent Print
Ltd (3) The Sunday Times (London) (3) Belfast Telegraph (2) The Mirror and The Sunday
Mirror (2) Scotsman (2) The Sunday Telegraph (London) (2) The Herald (Glasgow) (1) The
Independent Traveller (1) Irish News (1) The Observer (1) The People (1) Scotland on Sun-
day (1) The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday (1) (Nexis, University of Bath, 26/4/13).
13Number of articles/newspaper including the word 'Sicilian mafia' (main newspapers):
The Mirror and The Sunday Mirror (8) The Sunday Times (London) (6) The Times (London)
newspaper prints very few articles on this topic but that broadsheets tend to
print more than tabloids: The Independent and The Times (around 70 arti-
cles each) compared to The Sun (27) for example but this can vary.
However, there is a clear difference in the way national newspapers re-
port 'Italian Mafias'. The major focus is on reporting the activities of Italian
Mafias in Italy and Europe. But, there are differences between tabloid and
broadsheets. Broadsheets engage with the topic seriously and seek to pre-
sent a clear analysis. So, for example, The Independent reported on the role
of Matteo Messina Denaro in the renewal energy industry with the head-
line: 'Mafia's dirty money linked to clean energy' (The Independent, 16
September 2010) whereas The Sun reported it as 'Mafia take £1.2bn hit' to
explain how a business associate of Matteo Messina Denaro and a wind
farm and solar panel entrepreneur had his assets seized, but no in-depth
explanation of the relationship between the two men was presented. Tab-
loids (such as The Sun, the Express, the Mirror) report on important Italian
Mafia events in Italy but rather irregularly and their articles are very
short14, to the point, factual without in-depth analysis:: for example, 'Huge
blow to Mafia as 100 mobsters are held' (Daily Mail, 21/1/11), 'fugitive
mob don cornered in bunker' (The Sun, 8/12/11) and 'gangsters face toxic
waste blitz' (The Mirror, 9/11/2009). Moreover, they have a tendency to use
rather vivid language, strong and stereotypical images. For example, in
January 2012, the Mirror's headline was 'Mafia Inc: he's a porsche driving
womaniser who boasts of killing 50 people … he's been a fugitive for 20
years and he is running Italy's biggest industry, meet Matteo Messina De-
naro'. The Sun specialises in word-play: in its headlines on Italian Mafia-
related articles, and while there is no doubt that these are amusing, the im-
pact of the facts they are reporting is thereby minimized: 'Don and busted'
(The Irish Sun, 6/3/2013), 'The Codefather: Mafia's pizzini' (The Sun,
8/12/2007), 'Eh, you sleep wit da fellas' (The Sun, 2/5/2003), 'It's Donna
Corleone' (The Sun, 14/2/2009).
In general, tabloids use rich and colourful language to report the facts.
They tend to use strong and sensationalist words such as 'mob', 'gangster',
'godfather', 'bloody', 'turf war', that conjur up vivid images, which may in
turn reinforce simple perceptions. As Sunday tabloid reporter explained
(6) Belfast Telegraph (4) The Daily Telegraph (London) (4) The Guardian (London) (4) i -
Independent Print Ltd (3) The Independent (London) (3) (2) The Herald
(Glasgow) (2) Metro (UK) (2) Scotsman (2) Sunday Life (2) The Independent Traveller (1)
Limerick Leader (1) The People (1) The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday (1).(Nexis, Uni-
versity of Bath, 26/4/13).
14On average maximum word count 500, min 150 words, some exceptions.
'most British newspapers see Italian Mafias as something nostalgic, roman-
tic, sometimes even as a source of black humour if they crop up in incon-
gruous places such as English towns. Few would devote much space to the
modern reality of Italian Mafias unless they were linked to high levels of
serious crime in Britain' (reporter 1- Feb 2013). Indeed, another reporter
suggested that 'the view in the media corresponds to the images portrayed
in films like the Godfather and Goodfellas. […] there are of course ele-
ments in the media that sees the Italian Mafia as closer to reality but believe
that it is mainly confined to Italy. It is seen more as an Italian problem more
than anything else' (reporter 2 – March 2013).
Broadsheets on the other hand, report on all the main Mafia events that
take place in Italy and the UK. They explain and analyse in clear terms
without too many stereotypes. For example, they report the Mafia's in-
volvement in environmental crime (The Daily Telegraph, 10/7/12), the rela-
tionship between priests, money laundering and the Mafia (The Daily Tele-
graph, 10/6/12), The Mafia's involvement in EU funds (The Times,
30/9/10), the arrests of Mafia bosses in Italy and London (The Telegraph,
1/8/12), the alliance between Italian and Nigerian gangs (The Independent,
7/7/11). Thus, they present news in an informed and realistic way but per-
haps without presenting the phenomenon in all its complexity, as this clear-
ly does not sell papers. Often, they seek to go beyond the traditional stereo-
types and explain the situation but all too often, there is a reliance on the
use of facile stereotype15 and simplification which means that there is no
real understanding of the phenomenon, in particular, the pervasive money
laundering-strategies which are becoming more and more common in this
It is interesting to note that in contrast to national newspapers, regional
papers regularly report on Italian Mafia-events which are relevant to their
region and thus, perhaps, debunk stereotypes and change perceptions. They
produce a consistent and realistic picture. They show the relevance of Ma-
fia behaviour to their local readership. They seek to inform them of the po-
tential 'harm' to the local community: The Belfast News in 2010 reported
that the 'Italian mafia [was] selling chainsaws door-to-door' (28/6/2010),
The Enfield Independent reported that 'Enfield man jailed for role in £10
cigarette smuggling ring' (20/1/11) in which the Italian Mafia was involved,
The Herald (Glasgow) reported that 'Counterfeit goods racket is broken up'
15In an article, on the Horsemeat scandal 2013, The Daily Evening Express (14/2/13)
discussing horse meat made an illusion to the technique that some criminal groups have of
leaving horses head as a symbolic message which was portrayed in The Godfather (1972).
(22/5/10) and The Lancashire Evening Post reported 'My friend … the Ma-
fia mobster' (24/2/2009) in which a local befriended a camorristi who was
on the run in Preston. National newspapers do not use this approach but
they do often compare 'Italian Mafias' to many different phenomena; they
use it as a strong metaphor16 which may in turn reduce public awareness of
the danger of Italian Mafias. In sum, we can say that British national press
try and engage in explaining Italian Mafias but there is still a tendency to
present Italian Mafias as archaic, remote, violent and traditional not reflect-
ing its true economic capacity to infiltrate all economies.
4. British Police Perceptions
The recent philosophy behind British policing is how much 'harm' crim-
inality inflicts on local communities. Policing priorities and budgets are
determined by 'harm' rather than 'risk' and 'threat' which are more about the
potential and hypothetical damage that can be done. Volume crime (such as
shop lifting, burglaries) can be seen as the main priority for British policing
because of the direct harm it produces. This therefore means that that which
does not produce harm is not considered a priority. Italian Mafias and for-
eign organised crime groups fall into this category. The perceptions which
the police have of a criminal phenomenon are important but must also be
understood in relation to these management priorities. Organised crime on-
ly became a priority for British policing in the 1990s but at national level
this was problematic because of the 43 constabularies that have different
territory and priorities.
From interviews carried out across different police forces17, it emerges
that British police officers working on organised crime, understand the na-
ture of the crime they are dealing with. As one police officer pointed out “I
think that organised crime cuts into everything; it's got tentacles every-
where. What I do think is that there is a concentration of organised crime
groups in the metropolitan areas' (8/12/09). They see its different dimen-
sions: 'I think that there is a perception that ultimately it's people from poor
backgrounds with high unemployment and also low prospects of success. I
16One example of this is when The Sun newspaper described the bosses of the Scottish
Premier League as 'mafia bosses' ('Scotia Nostra', The Sun, 21 January 2012).
17Interviews with British Police officers working in organised crime units (Thames Val-
ley Police, Devon and Cornwall, Sussex, Merseyside, Derbyshire, Hampshire constabular-
ies): September 2009- September 2010.
think there is probably a degree of that because […]. But, I think there is
also a higher tier - legitimate business people on the face of it, who want to
find ways of making money for themselves and paying less money into the
tax system and will use their business contacts and also their business acu-
men to try and further organised crime. It is a question of morality as well.
I think when you look at white collar crime, they don't see that there is a
victim in it. Because there is no physical victim, they think it's all right,
because they are taken from another business, but the question is, the white
collar crime for me is all about the money laundering processes' (12/12/09).
They believe that the perception of organised crime is exaggerated and
that the general public are not very familiar with the realities of organised
crime: 'the perception of organised crime is bigger than it actually is […]
you are never likely to come into contact or never knowingly come into
contact with any organised crime gang. Yet, we hear about it all the time'
(9/10/09). One other police officer, reinforced this point, the public 'very
rarely come into contact with organised crime gangs. They are more likely
to come into contact with your small, low level crime. So the threat to the
public is very small in relation to organised crime. But, perhaps the percep-
tion is greater' (9/10/09).
It is clear that because British police officers do not deal with Italian
Mafias or foreign criminal groups in their every day work, these groups are
perceived as remote, unfamiliar and faraway. In the recent past, SOCA (the
UK Serious and Organised Crime Agency) has policed international organ-
ised crime groups and therefore information has remained restricted to a
certain group of police officers. As a consequence, the majority of British
police officers, even working in the area of organised crime, rely on the
normal mainstream perceptions of the phenomenon.
Indeed, a mixed group of police and government services18 had the fol-
lowing images when thinking about Italian Mafias: 'Al Pacino', 'dark cloth-
ing', 'horses heads', 'well dressed men sitting round a table', 'omertà', 'pasta
houses', 'The Sopranos', 'Gomorrah' (2013). In addition, they identified the
defining features of Italian Mafias as 'violence, threatening and violent,
organised harmful crime with a head, secretive criminal with a common
purpose, organised, family oriented, corruption and crime, local police, lo-
cal politics, a family organised crime group, close community – head of
'family' being the leader, organisation, family, making money structure,
pure Italian' (2013). This group believed that Italian Mafias were very
18A questionnaire was distributed among a very small mixed group of police and gov-
ernment services in March 2013.
harmful (47%), harmful (47%) and not particularly harmful (6%) to Italy
while only very harmful (13%), harmful (47%) and not particularly harmful
(40%) to the UK.
There is some evidence to suggest that British local police forces have a
partial and therefore, incomplete understanding of foreign organised crime
groups and Italian Mafias because they are not a priority. There tends to be
an over-reliance on traditional stereotypes of Italian Mafias but also an
identification with strong images associated with organised crime, such as
human trafficking networks and drug smuggling gangs. Italian Mafias have
evolved beyond the stereotypical images and have become modern busi-
nesses, particularly interested in money-laundering. We should remember
that before Giovanni Falcone the stereotypical images of 'cupola'19 and 'lu-
para'20 of the Mafias of 1950s also predominated in Italy. But, in the late
1980s and early 1990s, he understood that Italian Mafias were changing,
and evolving; that they had modernised and now had extensive internation-
al ties, solid relationships with local and national politicians and the busi-
ness world. Italian Mafias are now money laundering more and more
abroad, particularly in Europe21 and UK where asset confiscation laws are
considered less rigid, coherent and constraining than in Italy. Moreover, the
British police would appear to have an insular approach to the Italian Ma-
fia, which means that it is rather parochial and short-sighted, looking at
organised crime and mafias as an international question, someone else's
problem far away. Indeed, Italian Mafias are seen as an 'Italian' problem
and not an international nor European problem. This has serious implica-
tions for the UK in particular, because much of its information and under-
standing is still, it would appear, based on traditional stereotypes and misin-
formed perceptions.
From this tentative discussion, it is fair to say, that there still exists in
the UK some traditional, romantic and old fashioned perceptions of Italian
Mafias which are closer to the narratives presented in the Godfather, Good-
fellas and the Sopranos than a true reflection of Italian Mafia's activities,
19The term 'cupola' refers to the hierarchical structure of the Sicilian Mafia.
20The term 'lupara' refers to a type of shotgun believed to be used by mafiosi.
21 See the case of the Neapolitan Camorra Amato-Pagano clan that sought to launder
money via a financial credit institute in Monte Carlo (see 'Blitz contro gli scissionisti,
Montecarlo era il terminale del riciclaggio, 19/5/2009, D. Del Porto, La Repubblica, Pagine
di Napoli).
strategies, and prowess. Italian Mafias today are more than 'pasta and spa-
ghetti eating, car chasing, dark glass wearing, cigar smoking, loyal, faithful,
honourable, ruthless, family based Italian man in a black suit with pockets
full of money who can corrupt and be violent and who does not talk to
women about his activities'22. Mafias now operate as modern businesses
that adapt to their different environments: in Italy, they can both be 'visible'
and 'violent', employing traditional, brutal and intimidating strategies to
control the local territory (Allum, 2012, 2013) but also very efficient legit-
imate companies. Abroad, they have so far been relatively, 'invisible' and
'peaceful' in order not to be noticed and make money in new business ven-
tures to recycle their Italian illegally-made profits (Allum, 2013).
This article is not saying that European and British police forces “must
try harder to get these bad Italian guys whose names end in a vowel” but it
is arguing that we need to recognise the lack of British understanding of the
true nature of their crimes. We also lack the law enforcement tools and the
European cooperation to identify and understand them. Misperception here
is dangerous because if we still have these traditional stereotypical percep-
tions far removed from reality, we might not recognise Italian Mafias when
they are here, we might not recognise their activities and we will definitely
not develop the proper instruments to tackle them. So the UK might well
some kind of haven for fugitives but also for Mafia investment activities.
As one Italian Mafioso was told when he was in the UK: "No, in England,
we have a completely different way of… We don't have... I'll give you an
example - do you know the Italian code includes camorra association?
Well, we don't have it as a crime in our code. If you are on the run now for
mafia association, no one can extradite you because, here, association as a crime
doesn't exist" (GP23 2011: 7).
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Perception and establishment of Italian criminal
organisations in Spain
by Andrea Giménez-Salinas Framis
This article explores the evolution of the presence of Italian criminal or-
ganisations in Spain according to changes in local conditions and political
perceptions. We will start by explaining some historical conditions that has
put Spain at the forefront of all the charts of international trafficking routes.
This will help to understand the evolution of consolidation of mafia groups
in Spain under some encouraging conditions and the role that members of
the Italian organisations have played in Spain during the last decades. Fi-
nally, we explore on the possible evolution of the presence of members of
the mafia in view of the financial crisis that is currently affecting Spain.
Keywords: Italian criminal organisations, Spain, Mafia groups in Spain,
There has been a constant presence of Italian criminal organisations in
Spain over the last decades, following a similar pattern to Spain’s growth in
the landscape of international organised crime. Within a short period of
time Spain has gone from being a territory with isolated organised criminal
activities of a lesser significance, to becoming one of the main axis of the
routes of the international trafficking of many illegal markets (cocaine,
hashish, illegal immigrants, human beings, stolen vehicles, fake products,
etc.) (EUROPOL, 2010, 2013; Giménez-Salinas, et al, 2013).
The presence of members of Italian organisations has been relentless
over the last decades; as a shelter from police or judicial action in their
country of origin, as an operative setting to carry out their business with
international supplier organisations or as a place in which to invest illicit
money generated in Italy. This settlement has been possible because of the
Andrea Giménez-Salinas Framis, Forensic and Security Sciences Institute Universidad
Autónoma de Madrid.
Gimènez-Salinas Framis
favourable local conditions and the capacity of the Italian citizens to go
unnoticed in coastal areas and large cities with a great influx of foreigners.
Conversely, the actions of law enforcement and political authorities have
not been in sync with the growth of this material threat. For many years the
establishment of members of Italian criminal organisations has not been
perceived as a threat, because it was believed that their main aim was to
protect themselves from the Italian authorities. The pressure of the Italian
authorities together with the events that took place in Spain that prove the
capacity of economic and political penetration of these organisations, has
led to a change in this perception and to further repression in recent years.
The change in awareness regarding these types of organisations is made
apparent by the police operations carried out in recent years against mem-
bers of the Camorra and ‘Ndrangheta.
We will now explore in detail the presence of Italian criminal organisa-
tions in Spain and the evolution of their economic and social penetration.
To this end, we must bear in mind that their intrusion has been slow, and
encouraged by the inaction of the authorities responsible for its control, by
a lack of perception of the risks involved and by the social, economic and
political conditions of the Spanish setting over the last forty years. We will
start by explaining the background that has put Spain at the forefront of all
the charts of international trafficking routes, before moving on to analyse
the role that members of the Italian organisations have played in Spain. Fi-
nally, we will speculate on the possible evolution of the presence of mem-
bers of the mafia in view of the financial crisis that is currently affecting
1. Background to Spanish organised crime
From the 1970s organised crime has been on the rise and has become
consolidated, to the extent that Spain is one of the most important European
countries when it comes to routes for international organised crime. Over
the last decades (1990-2010) we have witnessed an increase in the activities
of organised crime, but also a change in their characteristics, becoming
more versatile groups with an international dimension. However, how did
we get to where we are? Which activities have enabled this evolution?
What conditions have led to attaining such a strategic position in interna-
tional markets? The elements responsible for the recent evolution of this
problem are twofold: on the one hand, the contraband eradicated in Galicia
that created the platform for Colombian groups to develop an illicit market
Gimènez-Salinas Framis
that is much more lucrative, the cocaine market. On the other hand, tourism
and the good climate in Spanish coastal areas offered the perfect conditions
for urban development in the area and the residence of members of criminal
organisations that could easily launder illicit funds in the Costa del Sol or
the Levante area (De la Corte and Giménez-Salinas, 2010: 345-52).
These conditions have come with other factors that have had a bearing
on why Spain has become an international route for most illicit trafficking.
Spain’s geographic position as the main entry gate to Europe from South
America and North Africa, unspecialised political and judicial repression
and one that is more used to genuinely local problems such as terrorism,
local authorities that are not very sensitive towards the introduction of illic-
it money and more preoccupied with tourism and urban development in the
area and a growing economy based on two sectors that are very vulnerable
to money laundering: tourism and construction. These conditions have been
most welcoming for the establishment and development of a prolific organ-
ised criminal activity and have enabled the establishment and development
of three types of organised crime that coexist at present: a) a consolidated
and strong autochthonous organised criminality which role is secondary in
the international market and primary when it comes to local distribution; b)
an autochthonous organised criminality that has established ties with con-
solidated groups from non-European countries and, lastly, a foreign organ-
ised criminality that develops its business in Spain, establishing itself as a
permanent resident or acting solely in Spain and returning to its country of
origin for refuge (De la Corte and Giménez-Salinas, 2010: 341). However,
has all this happened in recent years? What events have led to the current
situation? We will now delve into the events that explain the organised
crime currently present in Spain.
1.1 From contraband tobacco to drug trafficking
In the 1970s, Gallegan groups, with a long-established tradition (Resa
Nestares, 2001: 4) in the contraband of different products, started to control
tobacco contraband from North America. These groups were family clans
that would contraband coffee, bananas and nylon by taking advantage of
their proximity to the Portuguese border. The most renowned groups at the
time were the Charlines, the Peques, Jacinto Santos, the Indios or the Ca-
At the time, contraband was not subject to criticism by society or by the
institutions, the authorities reacted to these activities with benevolence (Re-
Gimènez-Salinas Framis
sa Nestares, 2001: 6) and society as a whole treated contrabandists as local
heroes. In this environment of permissibility, the contraband groups would
make money very quickly and would grow uncontrollably, gradually man-
aging to get hold of better infrastructures, more sophisticated means and, in
turn, offer employment to many citizens, thus winning over the sympathy
and complicity of local residents. This thriving time extended to the 1980s,
when intense repression against tobacco contraband started, following the
approval of Basic Law 7/19821. This repression continued to intensify in
subsequent years with increased judicial and police control of the groups
dedicated to this activity.
This repression against contraband led to a significant number of con-
trabandists being jailed, which constituted the breeding ground for the de-
velopment of new alliances and illegal businesses. New routes were
planned and the resources and infrastructures to develop one of the most
important platforms for the entry of cocaine into the European market were
established. With the emergence of new opportunities in the European
market, Colombians saw the opportunity of considering Spain as a privi-
leged territory in which to distribute the cocaine produced in their country.
This was also a qualitative and quantitative leap forward for the Gallegan
clans because it was a product that was much easier to transport than tobac-
co, it was a less controlled market and one with significantly higher eco-
nomic benefits. In this way, the trafficking of this substance soon became a