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Mafia clans jailed in landmark trial after pocketing millions in EU funds – POLITICO | #ukscams | #datingscams | #european | #datingscams | #love | #relationships | #scams | #pof | #match.com | #dating


ROME — Dozens of Sicilian mafiosi and their white-collar accomplices were jailed in a landmark trial that showed how the mob defrauded the EU out of millions of euros. 

The year-and-a-half-long maxi-trial of 101 defendants in a bunker-style courthouse in Messina, Sicily, came to an end early Tuesday, with 91 of the accused sentenced to a combined 660 years in prison for crimes including fraud, false statements, extortion, creating fake companies for illegal gain, and drug peddling. Two of the gang leaders will go to jail for 30 years and 23 years. The verdicts and sentences took more than a hour to read out.

The trial exposed for the first time a system of scams that drained at least €5 million in EU agricultural funds into the coffers of two mob clans based in the Nebrodi Mountains and their associates, including accountants, politicians and government employees.

“The trial showed that there is a modern mafia that has shifted from extortion and drugs to more sophisticated forms of revenue, using fraud to obtain public funds intended for the development of Sicily,” Prosecutor Maurizio De Lucia told POLITICO.

Italy has long struggled with corruption and the trial could raise concerns about the €191.5 billion Italy is set to receive as part of the EU’s post-pandemic economic recovery fund. But the successful prosecution could also highlight the country’s ability to crack down on crime.

In 2020, after a four-year investigation, about 1,000 police officers swooped on the homes of dozens of suspected mafia members — with nicknames like Blondie, Banger and Vito Corleone (after Marlon Brando’s character in “The Godfather”).

The two clans fought a turf war in the 1980s and 1990s, which left more than 40 people dead. But they later put their differences aside in their joint effort to defraud the EU.

Bribing local officials, they identified plots of land where EU funds had not yet been claimed and appropriated them by threatening landowners or creating fake rental contracts in the names of front men, said De Lucia.

Often they did not bother to farm the land, and even applied for funding on land not used for farms or land they didn’t control, including a plot owned by the Catholic Church and another the U.S. Navy used to host satellite communications.

Authorities became aware that mafia clans were siphoning off EU subsidies around 2012, when Giuseppe Antoci, a former president of the Nebrodi region, tightened background checks for those applying for funds. Those checks are now part of national law.

That crackdown put Antoci in danger; he was the target of an assassination attempt in 2016, the most high-profile attack on an institutional figure since the 1990s. He now lives under 24-hour armed guard, but he was at the courthouse to see the verdicts read out.

“This territory was called ‘the land of dead souls,’ because it was so subjugated by the mob,” he told POLITICO. “The clans were at war in the past, but in recent times, they no longer needed to kill each other because money arrived from the EU. They divided the land, humiliated people. It was small farmers that paid the price. No one could stand up to them or he would be set right, as they say, using the traditional mafia methods of extortion and intimidation.

“More than 600 years of prison time is a very strong signal. This territory has now been freed and can teach something to the country,” he said.

The investigation and trial encouraged prosecutors in other regions and countries to carry out their own investigations, according to De Lucia.

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