Italian Public Prosecutor: Immigration Funding ‘Attracting Mafia Interests’

Migrants and refugees disembark from a Maltese coast guard patrol vessel after being rescued at sea, on April 15, 2016, at the Messina harbor in Sicily.

The immense amount of money being allocated to the reception of migrants in Italy is “attracting Mafia interests” who would like a slice of the pie, according to the public prosecutor of Catania, Sicily.

“Based on investigations,” Prosecutor Carmelo Zuccaro testified Wednesday before Italy’s anti-Mafia Commission, “there is a mass of money intended for the reception of migrants that is attracting the interests of Mafia organizations.

For months Zuccaro has advocated “following the money” to get to the bottom Italy’s immigration racket, both in terms of who was funding the operations and who was benefiting from billions of euros in public funds destined for the reception of migrants.

In late March, Zuccaro said that the Prosecutor’s office was “aware of huge transaction costs,” which in some cases, such as that of a MOAS ship (the Malta-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station) reached some “400,000 euros a month.” Another ship called the Aquarius, he said, from another humanitarian organization, “has a cost of 11,000 euros a day.”

“We could carry out an incisive inquiry into financing,” he said. “Yet at the moment we have suspicions but insufficient evidence to open a criminal investigation, so we can only try to understand indirectly who is funding the operations.”

A report released by Frontex, the border control agency of the European Union (EU), suggested that NGOs have been complicit with human traffickers by providing a shuttle service from North Africa to Italy.

In point of fact, the report stated, NGOs engaged in maritime rescue operations “help criminals achieve their objectives at minimum cost, strengthen their business model by increasing the chances of success.”

While Zuccaro insisted that it is a mistake to believe that the mafia is omnipotent, involved in everything, there are good grounds to believe that they are interested in receiving a cut of the huge amount of money transacted for the trafficking of migrants.

“The object of the investigation,” he said, “are not NGOs, but the traffickers, criminal perpetrators of unspeakable violence,” he said.

“That the people smugglers are financing some NGOs is a working hypothesis,” he said.

“The human traffickers are in some way blackmailing those working for humanitarian purposes, exposing migrants to ever more serious conditions of risk,” he said.

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