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Countering regional Italian Mafia expansion (CRIME) report helps battle against mafias across Europe

  • Date

    Thu 20 May 21

photograph of coast scene with tower of stones against evening sky

Essex researchers have presented the first systematic analysis of the expansion of Italian mafias across Europe providing insights into how criminal groups embed themselves in countries and operate across borders.

The new report, published by the University of Essex, aims to demystify the mafia concept as it develops in Italy and support different countries as they investigate the ways in which mafia groups operate and move across Europe. The Essex team also offers a framework to analyse mafia mobility and improve legal responses in different countries.

Criminologist and mafia expert, Dr Anna Sergi, Senior Lecturer, Department of Sociology, University of Essex, led this ground-breaking project together with her research assistant Dr Alice Rizzuti. The report presents the first analysis of the presence of Italian mafia groups in seven European countries (plus Italy) and the challenges of cross border policing of mafia-type organised crime.

Production of the report, Mafiaround-Europe, was enabled by funding from the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account, which accelerates the 'real world' impact of Essex research through projects engaging with organisations who enact research-led changes. The report highlights how mafia-type activities have adapted to individual countries, their economy, culture, infrastructure and logistics networks.

Territories outside Italy are, for mafia groups, places where they can consolidate certain business or venture into new ones.

The researchers record different structures and movement patterns in Europe with activities spanning from small-scale to cross-border operations and in a few cases, larger-scale businesses.

Dr Sergi’s team produced the report using open data and primary resources, previous and ongoing research, and had privileged partnerships with the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation Eurojust (Italian Desk & Operations) and the European Union's law enforcement agency Europol (Italian Organised Crime unit).

Dr Sergi said: “This project and its final report are unique. It is the first attempt to systematise available data on Italian mafias in Europe and to pair it with first-hand data from a variety of authorities, in Italy and in Europe, working with different cross-border policing and judicial institutions.

“The analysis contained in this report is valuable to policy makers in Europe as well as to students and researchers on the subject to both deepen the knowledge on Italian mafia mobility but also practically thinking about how to overcome existing challenges of cooperation.”

The report shows:

  • which mafia group operates where and what have they been concentrating on. How integrated they are within the national communities, each-other and with mafia clans in Italy.
  • how the police and judiciary work to counter mafia groups in these countries – their methods and how their methods differ from other nation states, specifically in relation to participation in organised crime groups (conspiracy, membership, participation), drug importation / trafficking and money laundering.
  • how the enforcement agencies work together across Europe, inside the EU and outside, with specific focus on the relationships between these countries and Italy.

Having reviewed eight countries, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Romania, Switzerland, UK, with Italy as a starting point, and having organised the findings into clear themes, the research offers a methodology that can be replicated for all other EU states and offers recommendations based on both criminological analysis and law in action to a variety of European stakeholders.

Filippo Spiezia, National Member for Italy and former Vice President at Eurojust welcomes this report and comments:

"It is fundamental to continue and to enhance the fight against mafia-type criminality at European level. This report represents a unique effort to systematise knowledge on Italian mafias and their worrying presence in some EU Member States.

It is also a valuable source of inspiration to address perduring shortcomings on criminal law and a tool to help practitioners in their daily cross-border cooperation with the EU partners.”

The report identifies how mafias operate very differently in each country. For example, Spain is often used by mafia members who are on the run due to its climate, language and accessibility, Belgium and the Netherlands are attractive countries to operate within due to their logistical networks and access to international ports, and mafia associates in Romania have pursued a particularly large and diverse range of activities including drugs and human trafficking, IT fraud and money laundering. The report includes detailed analysis of each country.

Mafiaround Europe, can be viewed on University of Essex project website.

Impact Acceleration Accounts allow research-focused universities like Essex to respond to impact opportunities in more flexible, responsive and creative ways. IAA funding builds capacity and creates opportunities for the social sciences to work across disciplines to progress research outputs and outcomes towards impact. ESRC IAAs proactively engage across their institution to build networks and leverage funding vital for sustainability of knowledge exchange and impact.