The ‘Italian approach’ to organised crime: seizing assets and investing them in social projects

Paris, France March 2022 – As part of a series of web conferences, Efus’ working group on organised crime held a session on 16 March on the ‘Italian approach’ to prevent and curb mafias, which is to seize their assets and invest them locally in social projects that benefit the population. 

The conference was presented by Gian Guido Nobili, Head of the Department of Urban Security and Crime Prevention at the Emilia Romagna Region and Director of the Italian Forum for Urban Security (FISU)

Worse than serving time in jail

According to the Council of the European Union, revenues in the main criminal markets amounted to 1% of the EU’s GDP, i.e., €139 billion in 2019. Other EU estimates put the cost for victims and the economy at between €218 and €282 billion every year. 

Gian Guido Nobili cited Europol’s 2021 Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment, according to which there are over 5,000 organised crime groups currently under investigation in Europe. More than 80% of them use legal business structures and are engaged in money laundering, which is a serious concern for the EU. Confiscating ill-gotten assets that are hidden in legal structures is thus a key priority of the EU’s internal security strategy

Focusing on Italy’s enduring battle with organised crime, M. Nobili explained that “Mafia people are more afraid of losing their assets than of going to jail.” Indeed, serving time is considered as part of the ‘curriculum’ and even a badge of honour, whereas losing assets (money, houses, hotels, clubs, boats, etc.) is humiliating and strikes at the heart since the whole point of organised crime is to amass wealth.  

This approach, which Italy first adopted in the 1980s, “has been a great step forward” said M. Nobili, adding that the legislative framework is now solid and efficient. 

Giving back to local communities

Responding to civil society’s pressure in the wake of the murder of Judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992, in particular a petition that gathered more than one million signatures, the Italian government passed a law in 1996 whereby seized assets from the Mafia could be given back to local communities in the form of social projects. 

M. Nobili highlighted “the huge creativity of Italian associations, in particular those run by and for young people” in finding ways to re-use Mafia’s assets, for example in schools, nurseries, day care centres for the elderly, and cultural and youth centres. He gave the example of a Carabinieri Museum in Palermo, Sicily, and the Villa Berceto seized from the Camorra in Emilia Romagna and turned into a civil centre with a regional investment of 800,000€. Another example is a villa in Maranello, also in Emilia Romagna and famous for being the home of luxury carmaker Ferrari, which will be converted into a B&B hotel that could employ up to 10 women victims of domestic violence. 

The final destination of the seized asset is not the most important, but the involvement of the local community in the social re-use. It’s a process we have improved in Italy over the years, using seized assets to build back strong local communities. It’s not just an economic investment or an institutional activity, but a project that must involve local citizens,” explained Gian Guido Nobili. 

Key takeaways

Concluding the session, Tatiana Morales, Efus Programme Manager, identified three takeaways: 

  • asset recovery works as a prevention tool; it has a deterrent effect;
  • re-using confiscated assets for social purposes has not only economic but also social value, which needs to be sustained over time;
  • local authorities have a broad window of opportunities to embark on this path with support from the regions and national governments. 

> The working group on organised crime’s next web conference will be held on 20 April and will address the issue of organised crime in European ports. The following will be held on 15 June and will be on Organised crime and urban violence: European and American perspectives

 > Follow the activities of the working group on organised crime on Efus Network