Behind every great fortune there is a great crime.
(Honoré de Balzac)
Aficionados of the Godfather films will know that mafia kingpin Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) spends the third instalment of the trilogy trying to make the family business ‘legit’. He pursues this end by ploughing the family’s ill-gotten gains into International Immobiliare, a real estate holding company that is part-owned by the Vatican.
“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” Corleone famously cries when his hopes are dashed by an underling bent on usurping his throne. Real-life underworld bosses used to find wheedling their way into mainstream business as tricky as Francis Ford Coppola’s leading man.
That was, until the credit crisis hit.
With its €65 billion ($83 billion) in ready (if dirty) cash at its disposal, The Mob has filled the credit gap in many parts of Italy. In fact, the mafia has become Italy’s number one ‘bank’ according to a recent report, Criminality's Grip on Business, by SOS Impresa, an anti-crime organisation.
“This is extortion with a clean face. Through their professions, they know the mechanisms of the legal credit market and they often know the financial position of their victims perfectly.”
The report suggests that the mafia has targeted small businesses, which have found it particularly difficult to come by credit during the economic slowdown. Victims of extortionate lending were found to be middle-aged shopkeepers and small businessmen whose enterprises run the risk of bankruptcy.
“They are usually people in traditional retail sectors like food, greengrocers, clothes or shoe shops, florists or furniture shops. These are the categories which, more than any other, are paying the price of the economic crisis,” the report notes.