Italian investigators have arrested 94 people in a massive swoop targeting Sicilian mafia clans specialising in EU funds fraud. More than 600 agents from the Carabinieri and the financial crime agency, Guardia di Finanzia, were involved in the operation led by the anti-mafia directorate of Messina, Sicily’s third largest city, Italian media reported.
The investigation also led to the seizure of 150 companies linked to the Messina Nebrodi mafia clans.
The suspects are facing charges of mafia association, aggravated fraud, fictitious registration of assets, extortion, and drug trafficking, among others. According to investigators the two mafia clans, Batanesi and Bontempo Scavo, worked together to carry out hundreds of scams targeting EU rural development funds worth about 5.5 million euros, money which was then “likely reused” to fund the gangs’ drug trafficking activities.
In order to carry out the scams the mafiosi relied on the help of a compliant notary and officials of the Agricultural Commercial Centres (CCA) which provides applicants with information on how to access European agriculture funds.
Among the corrupted officials arrested was Emanuele Galati Sardo, the mayor of Tortorici, a small town in the Messina area, who is accused of mafia association. According to the prosecutors, Galati Sardo made himself “available to the mafia organisation for the commission of a series of scams” and “had direct relations with the boss Aurelio Faranda.”
Roberta Schillaci, a spokesperson for the Five Star Movement in the Sicilian regional assembly, welcomed the arrests and called for stricter controls on the disbursement of EU funds.
“Land has become the object of conquest by criminal organisations and therefore an easy way to grab European resources, Schillaci said.
“The first evident anomaly, which we must continue to look out for, is the concentration of land in the hands of a few families, to the detriment of farmers, often forced to sell properties under harassment.”