The King of Rome

Over the last week a massive operation by secretive anti-mafia police units has exposed organised crime right inside Montecitorio, the heart of Rome’s government. It's a mafia start-up, and it's chilling

Ignazio Marino has a tough job...
Tim Hedges
On 9 December 2014 09:59

Ignazio Marino seems like a pretty good egg. A distinguished liver transplant surgeon (and how we need these), he went into politics for the centre-left, becoming a senator in 2006 and was head of the Senate’s standing committee on health.

In 2013 he successfully stood for Mayor of Rome, replacing the right wing Gianni Alemanno. Success here is a mixed blessing: it must be one of the most difficult jobs in Italy.

Rome has everything from sophisticated dwellings and expensive shops to hovels and drifters’ camps of third world standard. There are fewer than three million inhabitants, ten million tourists or more, and a bureaucracy more stifling than the traffic jams. It is, of course, corrupt.

When Marino took office in June last year he identified a ‘hole’ in the accounts. These things happen – from petty corruption, inefficiency, cover-ups; but the hole was for over €800 million. Rome was within days of shutting up shop.

Marino negotiated a cash injection from central government and set about making reforms which would put the city on a more even keel. His main problem seemed to be parking fines: whenever he went off on his bicycle round Rome he would leave his modest FIAT Panda somewhere illegal. Journalists scoured the city looking for the little red car to photograph the latest infraction.

Now, however, he faces a bigger struggle than avoiding journalists or tackling the vested interests and clientelism of the city’s management. Over the last week a massive operation by secretive anti-mafia police units has exposed organised crime right inside Montecitorio, the heart of the city’s government.

There were 37 arrests and hundreds more are being investigated, among them Gianni Alemanno, Marino’s predecessor as mayor and, incredibly, Italo Walter Politano, the anti-mafia tsar appointed by Marino himself.

The criminal gang seems to have been led by Massimo Carminati, a member of the old extreme right of Italian politics, who belonged to a group which blew up Bologna railway station in 1980, for which he did time in prison. Carminati, who collects expensive art such as Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol, styles himself ‘the king of Rome’.

And the business? Property, rubbish collection, extortion and .... immigrants. A wire tap of Salvatore Buzzi, Carminati’s number two, reveals him admitting to creaming off €40 million from the immigrant detention centres he had got himself put in charge of. ‘It’s more profitable than drugs’, he says.

So, corruption, violence, mafia hoods, payments to politicians (the police are in possession of a ‘little black book’ showing who got what), what’s new?

Two things. The first, and this is deeply depressing, is that the criminal underworld is involved not just with people smuggling (they do a bit of that, too) but with the care of the people who have been smuggled. And it is more profitable than cocaine.

The second, and this is what all Rome is talking about, is that this group seems to have sprung up on its own.

Everyone in Italy has always known about organised crime, but not spoken about it. It took Leonardo Sciascia’s  book Il giorno della civetta in 1961 to mention publicly for the first time the existence of the mafia.

Recently there has been the feeling that things were getting better. There are campaigns not to pay the pizzo protection money; you can buy food advertised as being grown on land seized from the mafia. Every week the papers carry stories of gangs arrested.

People are aware of the usual crime syndicates: the mafia in Sicily, the N’drangheta in Calabria, the Camorra in Naples and the smaller Sacra Corona in Puglia. What activity took place in Rome, Milan or elsewhere was assumed to be done by these groups. People tolerate it.

Now here is a new mafia, a start-up with no connection to the others. It uses the same methods as the old mafias, shows the same ruthlessness and displays an ability to find new markets which seems totally lacking in Italian business. There could be others, people are whispering.

What now in Rome? Alemanno has resigned from his political group and protests his innocence. Marino has suspended the Rome branch of the Democratic Party and now has round the clock protection. He cannot ride his bicycle or drive his famous Panda.

And the whole of Italy suddenly feels a chill.

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here

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