Italian authorities have seized €1.6bn in assets from a set of siblings in Sicily with suspected links to the Cosa Nostra mafia – one of the largest of such seizures to date.
The three brothers and two sisters, ranging in age from 66 to 78, allegedly made their riches by winning public sector construction projects with the help of the Cosa Nostra. Among the seized items were trusts, property and furniture.
Officials said they were targeting “known entrepreneurs” in the Palermo area who belonged to the Marineo mafia family, which has ties to the Corleone clan.
The court-ordered seizure, made at the behest of an anti-mafia prosecutor, Bernardo Petralia, appears to underline the scale of corruption that is still rife in Italy and how public sector contracts – whether in construction projects or waste management – have often been linked to organised crime.
Italy passed an anti-mafia law in the 1990s that allowed prosecutors to target the assets of suspected criminals. Federico Varese, a criminology professor at Oxford University, said the law has been a key tool in undermining the mafia in Italy, though it had not been without controversy.
According to the agency that manages the seizures, the Italian state currently holds nearly 7,000 assets, which include everything from privately run hospitals to apartment blocks, companies and land.
In Palermo there is a special court whose sole purpose is assigning new managers for seized assets, which, unlike in other countries, are generally not sold by the Italian state. “In a lot of these economic enterprises, once they are in the hands of the state they fail,” said Varese. “They go from being wealthy but corrupt to clean but bankrupt.”
The pattern has provoked criticism of the court and Italy’s management of the assets, but Varese said this was sometimes unfair given that the businesses had often been run through intimidation and corruption and were not necessarily designed to thrive in lawful circumstances.