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Backing for drive to resist Mafia

September 4, 2007

by Guy Dinmore in Rome

Business leaders in Sicily are generating support for a campaign against paying the pizzo, or extortion money, to the Mafia after increases in threats and rates.

Giorgio Napolitano, Italy’s president and a former communist, called on Monday for an “effective mobilisation of the state and civil society” against organised crime.

He paid tribute to Gen Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa on the 25th anniversary of his murder by the Sicilian Mafia. But his words were intended to help Confindustria, the employers’ body, whose Sicilian division announced at the weekend that it would expel members who paid extortion money.

Ivan Lo Bello, the president of Confindustria in Sicily, told the FT a new generation of Cosa Nostra leaders in Sicily was trying to assert its authority after setbacks, notably the capture last year of Bernardo Provenzano, the Corleone boss of bosses. The pizzo was not just a form of tax by the Mafia but also a demonstration of territorial control, he said.

Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the association’s national president, pronounced on Sunday that any company in Italy belonging to Confindustria would be expelled if it was found to have paid the pizzo.

Popular movements against the Mafia have come and gone, with some who refused to offer up the pizzo paying the ultimate price. But the local business campaign also reflects the strength of grassroots activism in Italy.

“We can’t go on living like this,” Andrea Vecchio, a Sicilian industrialist, wrote to Mr Napolitano after receiving death threats. He said he wanted to live “in a normal country”. He is under police protection.

Some Confindustria members have urged the government to send the army into Sicily. Romano Prodi, the prime minister, rejected that suggestion at the weekend.

Estimates of how much the Mafia earns from extortion range in the billions. One non-governmental body said small shopkeepers paid €200-€500 ($272-$681, £135-£337) each a month, and supermarkets €5,000.

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