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Mafia gangs probed over Italy windfarms

May 5, 2009

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By Guy Dinmore in Palermo, Italy

Publishedon the Financial Times: May 5 2009

Sicilian magistrates have launched an investigation into suspected collusion by mafia gangs, entrepreneurs and local officials in the construction of windfarms that are sold on to multinational companies.

Italian and European Union subsidies for building windfarms and the world’s highest guaranteed rates for the electricity they produce have turned southern Italy into a highly attractive market exploited by organised crime.

Roberto Scarpinato, a veteran anti-mafia prosecutor in the regional capital Palermo, told the Financial Times his investigation, which began last week, was focused on the three provinces of Palermo, Trapani and Agrigento.

An investigation into a case near Trapani in western Sicily resulted in eight arrests in February, leading to accusations of a suspected nexus between a leading mafia family that offered money and votes in exchange for permits to construct windfarms.

“Operation Wind” revealed mafia attempts to promiseofficials in Mazara del Vallo money and votes in exchange for help in approving windfarm projects.

The mafia suspects were alleged to be linked to Matteo Messina “Diabolik” Denaro, a fugitive clan boss.

Prosecutors suspect the hand of the mafia in fixing permits and building windfarms that are sold to Italian and foreign companies. To try to assert its control, the mafia is suspected of destroying two wind towers in storage in the port of Trapani, officials told the Financial Times.

“It is a refined system of connections to business and politicians. A handful of people control the wind sector. Many companies exist but it is the same people behind them,” said Mr Scarpinato, whose investigations have focused on the evolution of the mafia into a modern business organisation.

Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, in some respects in decline, is evolving and finding new opportunities, including renewable energy.

Several windfarms built by companies suspected of being linked to the mafia have not worked for one or two years, in some cases because of shoddy construction.

“This is the amazing thing that developers got public money to build windfarms which did not produce electricity,” the prosecutor said.

Regional governments in Sicily, as well as Calabria and Basilicata on the mainland, have suspended authorising new windfarms in part because of suspected criminal involvement and confusion over their ownership. Once built, the majority of farms are sold on through Italian intermediaries to multinationals.

International Power of the UK is the largest wind power operator in Italy. Others include Italy’s Enel and Germany’s Eon. France’s EDF also has assets.

While the international companies knew the identity of their Sicilian developers, there is no evidence they were aware of mafia involvement, Mr Scarpinato said.

Italy ranks fourth in Europe in terms of installed wind power capacity.

However industrialists and officials admit that development has been set back because of a lack of clear regulations and, in some cases, the involvement of organised crime.

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