Police: Mafia ripped off EU for millions in farm aid

Police: Mafia ripped off EU for millions in farm aid

  • Updated

ROME (AP) — Crime clans of the Sicilian Mafia working in cahoots with public officials defrauded the European Union of more than 10 million euros ($11 million) in agricultural aid, Italian authorities said Wednesday.

Officers from Italy's paramilitary Carabinieri and financial police fanned out across Sicily at dawn as part of the case, a crackdown officials said yielded 94 arrests..

National anti-Mafia Prosecutor Federico Cafiero de Raho said the alleged fraud involved thousands of hectares (acres) of farmland in eastern Sicily that fraudulently qualified for subsidies starting in 2013.

In many cases, the mafiosi used the time-tested method of violent threats to grab ownership of lands actually eligible for the EU aid, Cafiero de Raho, Italy's top investigator of organized crime, said.

Mobsters "used extortion to force sales of the lands,'' he said.

Cafiero de Raho said the investigation disrupted a “criminal system, a system of fraud" that saw traditionally rival crime clans across much of eastern Sicily join forces to gain the illicit revenues.

Some of the land in the alleged fraud scheme is within the Nebrodi public park, a hilly region popular for grazing.

Local public administrators and a notary public were arrested with suspected mobsters near Messina.

In past years, farmers who refused to be involved with fraudulent practices reported threats from Cosa Nostra.

Suspects were arrested for investigation of belonging to the Mafia or aiding it, extortion and fraud involving public funds, among other accusations.

The funds moved through a complex trail of bank accounts to make the money harder to trace, including banks in Lithuania, Malta, Bulgaria and other countries, police said. Prosecutors said they suspect the fraud amounted to far more than 10 million euros, but that for now that is the figure they can confirm.

A lawmaker from the governing 5-Star Movement, Gianluca Rizzo, said the mobsters essentially robbed taxpayers and also cheated Sicily's youth of their futures in the farm business. Unwilling to risk dealing with the Mafia, many decide to leave Sicily, he said.

The investigative crackdown deals “a true and real blow to the heart of a criminal system that, sucking away European funds to develop our region, makes money off the backs of future generations," Rizzo, who heads the Chamber of Deputies defense commission.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Get Breaking News delivered directly to you.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

  • Updated

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy rejected his prime minister's offer to resign and asked him to stay on the job Friday after he was caught on tape saying Zelenskiy — a former sitcom star with no previous political experience — knows nothing about the economy.

  • Updated

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran's top diplomat acknowledged Wednesday that Iranians “were lied to" for days after the Islamic Republic accidentally shot down a Ukrainian jetliner. The admission came as new surveillance footage purported to show two surface-to-air missiles 20 seconds apart shred the airplane and kill all 176 people aboard.

  • Updated

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — A Jordanian court sentenced an Israeli man on Monday to four months in prison and fined him $1,450 for illegally crossing into the country and possessing drugs, the state-run Petra news agency reported.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News