Italian 'Eco-Mafia' Booms, Outstrips Economy
ROME Italian Mafia activity that harms the environment -- from hazardous waste disposal to illegal construction -- enjoyed a boom year in 2004, an environmental report said on Tuesday.
"Eco-Mafia" business soared 30 percent last year to top 24 billion euros ($30 billion), putting its revenues on a par with Italy's biggest companies like Fiat, Italy's best known environmental group Legambiente said in its annual study of the racket.
"It's a performance without equal in Italy," Legambiente said, calling the eco-Mafia a financial "tiger".
Sicily's Cosa Nostra, the Naples-based Camorra and the increasingly powerful 'Ndrangheta from Calabria in the south are all players in the eco-Mafia racket.
Legambiente counted 194 Mafia clans involved in the illicit activities in 2004, up by 25 from 2003.
But Environment Minister Altero Matteoli was more upbeat about the outlook for Italy.
"I'm not saying that we have emerged from the difficult situation, but we're on the right path," he said of the report, according to ANSA news agency.
The number of crimes involving illegal garbage and hazardous waste disposal was up almost 40 percent.
Organised crime has been strong in Naples where a garbage disposal feud has repeatedly filled the streets with refuse and prompted riots.
In a sign that illegal waste dumps are taking their toll on the local population, a medical study last year showed residents near Naples were more susceptible to some cancers than the average Italian.
The Mafia also has a stranglehold on cement and construction businesses in parts of southern Italy and is behind much of the illegal erection of buildings in parks, archaeological sites, beaches band other protected areas.
Legambiente said 32,000 new illegal constructions went up in 2004, an increase of 3,000 over the previous year, boosted in part by a building law allowing property owners to be pardoned for illegal work by paying a fine.