Mafia gangsters have made tens of millions of euros after taking charge of one of Europe’s largest migrant reception centres, prosecutors allege.
Police in Italy have arrested 68 people with connections to a Roman Catholic charity mobsters used as cover to skim millions of euros in state funds, officials said yesterday.
Members of a crime family with links to the ‘Ndrangheta clan are said to have used a camp in the Calabrian town of Isola di Capo Rizzuto as a cash machine, helping themselves to €36 million while the migrants who were housed there were forced to subsist on pigswill.
The arrests come at the end of a lengthy investigation involving more than 500 investigators, some of whom were said to have worked many hours undercover as part of efforts to gather evidence against the Arena family.
A priest who held prayers at the centre was among those arrested alongside Leonardo Sacco, the head of the Catholic Misericordia association, the charity that ran the site.
Prosecutors say Sacco helped the Arena family win catering contracts at the iIsola di Capo Rizzuto centre and another camp in nearby Lampedusa, both of which are among the first places migrants are taken to after being rescued from the Mediterranean.
While the gang creamed off millions of euros to spend on yachts, luxury properties and high-end cars, residents of the camp were forced to eat substandard meals due to there not being enough food to go round.
“There was never enough food and we even filmed the quality of food: it was the kind of food we usually give to the pigs,” said Catanzaro anti-mafia prosecutor Nicola Gratteri.
“There were companies set up purposely for food service and with that money they bought theatres, cinemas, apartments, land, cars and luxury boats.”
National anti-corruption chief Raffaele Cantone said he believes the scam exposed during the operation is “just the tip of the iceberg, and certainly not a one-off case”.
Rosy Bindi, who leads the Italian parliament’s anti-mafia commission, commented: “The Cara of Isola Capo Rizzuto had become a money printing operation for organised crime thanks to the complicity of those who ran the centre.
“This operation shows the ability of the mafia to take advantage of the weaknesses and fragility of our times with its predatory and parasitic approach.”
The €3 billion the Italian government now spends on housing migrants is a major draw for the country’s organised crime groups, which are suspected to have sought out ways to profit from the migrant crisis in other ways.
Anti-mafia police have previously investigated alleged mob-related illegal activity at a migrant centre in Sicily, where investigators suspect organised criminals had become involved in the lucrative people smuggling trade.