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Italy has recorded highest number of deaths from COVID-19 and, to date, has the highest number of cases. This situation strained public resources and shifted the focus of law enforcement to enforcing locking measures to stop the spread.
Even though the lockdown has been cut their typical income stream – prostitution, drug trafficking and extortion – Mafia groups are starting to take control of businesses that are struggling desperately for cash.
“Mafia offers loans to business owners who need money. He knew who he was dealing with but he thought he could manage the situation. He was wrong, “Maurizio De Lucia, chief prosecutor of Messina, told Politico.
By infiltrating legitimate businesses, mafia groups have indirect access to the business owner’s relationship with the bank and its books, De Lucia said.
And officials say this trend is likely to trigger a surge in overall criminal activity far beyond the pandemic – and not only in Italy.
Mafia groups maintain their presence throughout Europe, most prominent in countries that do not pay attention to money laundering.
“They will work anywhere where there is capacity for corrupt officials, who will fall into the trap, either because they are smart or willing to corrupt,” said General Giuseppe Governale, head of the Italian Anti-Mafia Investigation Directorate (DIA).
The authorities are also anticipating crime groups to take advantage of the recovery efforts that come by siphoning investments in the country’s infrastructure.
Meanwhile, other groups have found entirely new ways to benefit in a pandemic economy. According to a report by Europol, organized crime groups have traded masks, fake gloves and medicines and imitated health care workers who offered “corona tests.”
Officials say coordinated efforts by European countries are needed to push back against organized crime. But with the attention of the leaders focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, “organized crime is not included [European] Commission priority, “said Pignedoli.