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Rule of law and organized crime: Germany, a Calabrian province?

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After the Duisburg ‘Ndrangheta murders 15 years ago, “La Repubblica” was headlined: “Duisburg, a province of Reggio Calabria”. Today one has to ask oneself whether a reformulation of this headline would not be appropriate: has perhaps all of Germany become a Calabrian province in the meantime? At least, this is the intention of the ‘Ndrangheta. As a boss of the organization explained to a younger colleague: “And remember: the world is divided in two, in Calabria and in what Calabria will become.”

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Law enforcement officials and academics say the ‘Ndrangheta’s calabrization campaign in Germany has already had notable success. A current study by the University of Essex finds that Germany has advanced to become the European country with the strongest mafia presence outside of Italy. The ‘Ndrangheta, currently the most powerful of the four major Italian mafia organizations, is mainly present in Thuringia, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg.

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Those who go out to eat pizza in certain cities in these regions should bear in mind that they have a good chance of assisting the mafia in money laundering. An investigator put it even more drastically when he stated after the Duisburg mafia murders that the entire Italian catering trade in the city should actually be closed. A police colleague is a bit more diplomatic: “We know where they are, we know how they work, but it’s not enough under criminal law.”

entry point into corruption

The bars were not only used for money laundering, but also as an entry point into corruption. “When you have a restaurant like that, you want to know what a politician looks like, how he moves, what his preferences are, does he have a secret that I can share with him and if he has a secret and I know about it, I have it in my hands,” said one investigator.

However, German politicians have no awareness of the dangers in this regard. The same investigator reports on a prominent CDU representative who stored crates of wine as gifts in his office and saw this as unproblematic: But will it stay with a few wine cases? Or are we in Germany threatened by Italian conditions, i.e. a much more extensive infiltration of politics by ‘Ndrangheta and Co.?

A committee of inquiry in the Thuringian state parliament is currently dealing with this question, the first of its kind in Germany. results are pending. “It’s really happening in Italy with buying votes and building land and such,” said a German mafia expert.

Access to certain institutions

And further: “They don’t do that here, they know that there are limits here, sometimes you still ask yourself, do they really exist, but mostly it’s enough for them, you like me and please say everywhere that you like me , and that gives them access to certain institutions and people.” But where is the limit?

A few years ago, the case of Senator Di Girolamo made headlines in Baden-Württemberg, a confidante of the ‘Ndrangheta, for whom Calabrian clans in the Ländle had bought masses of ballot papers from their Italian fellow citizens for postal votes to parliament. In Italy, buying votes has always been a popular instrument of power for the mafia to exert influence. Should their offshoots in Germany try to manipulate the democratic system in their own way?

In Italy things are really happening with buying votes and building land and stuff like that.

Unnamed German mafia expert

At first glance, such a threat may seem exaggerated. But the police in North Rhine-Westphalia have also been told that they should go to the consulate in Cologne and see who is there at election time. In general, the German constitutional state puts many obstacles in the way of those fighting the mafia, especially in the areas of data protection and money laundering legislation. Investigators from Germany and Italy regularly despair of the data protection requirements.

Operation Pollino

But there is also good news. A “mammoth trial” is currently taking place in Düsseldorf, as some media have called it, against the mafia, which emerged from the sensational Operation Pollino, a concerted European police action in which around 90 suspected ‘Ndranghetisti were arrested in 2018. The trial is a first in that it is the first time that suspected Mafiosi have been accused of membership in a criminal organization before a German court of appeal.

Should there be a conviction, this would be an important step in the fight against the mafia: Current developments at European level are also encouraging, where the European Public Prosecutor’s Office established in 2021 has already seized more money than it costs in the first year of its existence. The mandate of the EPPO also covers criminal activities by the mafia, insofar as these are at the expense of the EU budget.

The first case of the EUStA was a sales tax carousel in which the ‘Ndrangheta also seems to be involved. Due to the supranational construction of the EPPO, international cooperation against organized crime works much more efficiently than via the bumpy route of requests for legal assistance. Therefore, judicial experts agree that the EPPO will play an important role in strengthening the rule of law.

International cooperation is undoubtedly a key factor in the fight against the transnational spread of the Mafia; it must be pushed forward and consolidated to prevent one day there being no question mark behind the title of this article.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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