Nfter a good year and a half, the biggest mafia trial against the Sicilian Cosa Nostra in decades came to an end on Tuesday in Patti near Messina. Of the 101 accused in the court bunker, 91 people were sentenced to a total of more than 660 years in prison for offenses such as fraud, extortion, forgery, founding fictitious companies and embezzlement of EU funds and drug trafficking. Cash and real estate worth more than four million euros were confiscated. Ten defendants were acquitted. The main defendants in the maxi-trial, the bosses of the Cosa Nostra Batanesi and Bontempo Scavo clans, were sentenced to 30 years and 23 years and six months in prison, respectively. The reading of the verdicts by the presiding judge Ugo Scavuzzo and his two assessors took more than an hour.
The “Willow Mafia”
After a good four-year investigation by the carabinieri, the financial police and the anti-mafia authorities led by the then chief public prosecutor of Messina, Maurizio De Lucia, 48 people and others were arrested in a major raid in January 2020 in the hinterland of the port city of Messina in north-eastern Sicily 46 suspects have been placed under house arrest.
Around 600 officers were involved in the raid on the “mafia dei pascoli” (mafia of the willows). According to the court, the two clans stole more than 5.5 million euros in EU subsidies to promote agriculture between 2010 and 2017. They declared areas as arable land and pasture land, although no agriculture was practiced there. The fictitious agricultural land in the Nebrodi Mountains in northeast Sicily included territories that were actually owned by the Catholic Church or used by the American Navy for satellite communications.
From clan warfare to cooperation
The Batanesi and Bontempo Scavo clans had been enemies for a long time, and bloody battles over distribution in the 1980s and 1990s claimed more than 40 lives. In the end, the clans gave up their fights in order to jointly purchase or pretend to buy agricultural land. They applied for and received funding for these areas through bogus companies and with forged documents. Numerous officials and local politicians were involved in the fraud. Among those convicted is the mayor of Tortorici, the hometown of the Batanesi clan: Emanuele Galati Sardo, elected to office in 2019, has been sentenced to six years and two months in prison.
The procedure showed that “in addition to blackmail and drug trafficking, the modern mafia has developed far more sophisticated forms of revenue generation, for example by fraudulently tapping public funds for the development of Sicily,” said prosecutor De Lucia after the verdict. De Lucia has now been appointed Palermo’s chief prosecutor and, like all major anti-mafia investigators, enjoys 24-hour police protection.
The end of the Mafia in the Nebrodi Mountains?
The former president of the 86,000-hectare Parco dei Nebrodi regional nature reserve, Giuseppe Antoci, expressed confidence after the verdict that the Cosa Nostra had now been expelled from the Nebrodi Mountains. Antoci had managed to ensure that the anti-mafia authorities had to carry out checks on the sale of small plots of land in the region. The “Antoci Protocol” has been applied to land sales throughout Sicily since 2015 and throughout Italy since 2017. Antoci survived an attack by Cosa Nostra on his armored vehicle in May 2016 unharmed. Since then, he too has been constantly protected by bodyguards.
The Nebrodi Mountains were formerly called “the land of dead souls” because of the bloody rule of Cosa Nostra, Antoci said after Tuesday’s verdict. In particular, small ranchers and farmers in the Nebrodi Mountains could not counter the mafia’s blackmail and intimidation. “Prison sentences of more than 600 years are a very strong signal,” said Antoci, expressing confidence that the region “is now liberated”. The process and the verdict would also have “a signal effect for the whole country”.
Italy will receive a good 191 billion euros from the European Union’s post-pandemic recovery fund, more than any other EU country. The allocation of the funds is also slow because the anti-mafia authorities have to carry out numerous checks before the funds are paid out.
The Sicilian Cosa Nostra is considered the oldest mafia organization and is controlled by a few family clans. The total number of members of the Cosa Nostra clans is currently estimated at around 5000. The ‘Ndrangheta from Calabria is now considered the most dangerous and influential mafia organization and has established itself throughout Italy and in various European countries in recent years. The Camorra is active in Naples and throughout the Campania region, and the Sacra Corona Unita in Puglia. The extortion of protection money from local companies is still one of the mafia organizations’ main sources of income.