Italy: How mob’s dirty work is choking Naples

As Naples is gripped by fears of a Mafia-tainted food chain, Italy’s organised crime fighter has said the Camorra syndicate’s gangsters have expanded their multi-billion euro toxic waste disposal racket to the holiday paradise of Tuscany and beyond Italian borders to eastern Europe.

Domenico Della Corte, inset, believes his Caivano produce is perfectly safe; the mob is dumping toxic waste near his spread. Picture: AP
Domenico Della Corte, inset, believes his Caivano produce is perfectly safe; the mob is dumping toxic waste near his spread. Picture: AP

Franco Roberti, the national anti-Mafia prosecutor, said that investigators have uncovered Camorra toxic waste dumping in the Prato area ten miles north of Florence, the tourist capital of Tuscany. He said Italy is also investigating a trail of toxic waste being shipped to eastern Europe, although he would not reveal where.

Until recently, the toxic waste – mostly from industries in northern Italy – had been dumped in the Camorra’s backyard in the Naples area. Investigators recently discovered that farmland around Naples is contaminated with dangerous levels of arsenic, lead and other harmful materials. The revelations prompted tens of thousands of people to march through the city’s streets last month.

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This month, police visited a number of farms around Naples and placed orders on the fields prohibiting anyone from harvesting or setting foot on them.

The head of the Naples environmental police force issued a list of substances found in higher than permissible levels contaminating 13 irrigation wells on the farmlands: arsenic, cadmium, tin, beryllium and other metals; tetrachloride and toluene among other chemicals used as industrial solvents.

On one farm in Caivano, General Sergio Costa said, four times the permissible level of lead was found in the irrigation well’s water. Cabbages irrigated by that water were found to be contaminated with lead.

A top Camorra boss, Francesco Bidognetti, was convicted last month of poisoning the water table in the town of Gugliano with toxic waste and received a 20-year sentence. It was by far the stiffest punishment yet for waste dumping and a strong sign that the state is cracking down on the lucrative racket.

Farmers scoffed at the idea their vegetables, a key part of the much-touted healthy Mediterranean diet, would be bad to eat.

“I eat them, my sons eat them and my grandchildren eat them,” said Domenico Della Corte, holding up a cauliflower as big as a bridal bouquet.

Mr Roberti yesterday said the southern territory where the Camorra holds sway “is now a little saturated” – pushing the mob into new areas. Increasingly close ties between the Naples-based Camorra and Chinese gangsters make the Prato area in Tuscany a logical choice for the Italian gangsters looking for new dumping grounds.

The Camorra has a long-running and profitable relationship with Chinese criminals in the manufacturing and illicit sale of fake designer clothing.

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The Prato area has long been the turf of Chinese who have operated clandestine garment factories – many employing
illegal Chinese immigrants – for decades.

Mr Roberti said the Camorra does not have to shop around for business among the factories, processing plants and hospitals of northern Italy. After two
decades in the racket, the Camorra is the go-to for anyone who wants toxic waste to disappear for a fraction of the cost of what it takes to do it legally.

Past investigations have found that the Camorra and their
Chinese contacts have schemed together in the lucrative illegal waste racket. An operation
code-named Marco Polo in the 2005 and conducted by Carabinieri paramilitary police resulted in the confiscation in Naples port of 20 containers readied for transport aboard cargo ships – holding plastic waste including toxic materials and hospital refuse.

The cargo, police said, was about to be shipped to China and Hong Kong.