Italian Mafia Loan Sharks Offer Coronavirus Relief Loans

People stand apart as they respect the 'social distancing' requirments to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, as they queue in front of a grocery store in Locri, a southern Italian city in the Calabria region, on April 7, 2020. - At the Locri hospital in southern …
GIANLUCA CHININEA/AFP via Getty Images

Italy’s mafia is seeking to profit from the Chinese coronavirus pandemic by soliciting small businesses and poor families who are facing financial ruin over the virus, prosecutors told Reuters.

Prosecutors believe members of the Italian mafia are offering poor families loans and food during the nation’s coronavirus crisis, giving the mob an opportunity to regain people’s loyalties after decades of having their influence curtailed in Italy, according to a report by Reuters.

“We know that ‘families of friends,’ all of them loan sharks, are making themselves available to give money to the people in difficulty,” said attorney Amedeo Scaramella, who heads the San Giuseppe Moscato Foundation.

The foundation, from Naples, Italy, combats loan sharks, in part by guaranteeing bank loans to people who are considered to be credit risks.

Scaramella told Reuters that loan sharks oftentimes start by offering people loan rates that compete with banks, and then later entrap them by driving up the loans to 300 percent.

Federico Cafiero De Raho, Italy’s national anti-mafia prosecutor, told Reuters that he and his agents “have evidence” of the mob seeking to profit from the Chinese coronavirus and that his agents have noticed Camorra clans giving free food to families low on money due to the national lockdown measures implemented in response to the virus.

“The Camorra knows this is the right time to invest,” added De Raho.

The report added that a Naples charity worker, Antonio Lucidi, mentioned that he had raised more than $162,000 to deliver food to families in need so they would not have to accept it from the mafia during the lockdown.

“When hunger becomes a real issue, it’s hard to resist temptation,” Lucidi told Reuters.

The Italian mafia is not the only mob seeking to profit from the Chinese coronavirus. In Greece, police have recently seized 11 tons of hand sanitizer from a warehouse owned by a Roma mafia boss who sought to make money off the virus.

The Italian mafia may have further incentive to profit from fallout due to the coronavirus, as the coronavirus has negatively impacted the mob economy, according to officials, who say that the national lockdown has made it difficult for the mafia to move around.

“The collapse of drug dealing is causing serious damage,” said Michele Emiliano, the governor of Italy’s southern Puglia region.

The report added that Nicola Gratteri — one of Italy’s best-known prosecutors, who has to live with a 24-hour police escort due to his investigations into the mafia — added that the mob was more than willing to help small businesses during the nation’s coronavirus crisis.

“Mobsters can buy these properties (if loans are not repaid) and use them for money laundering,” Gratteri told Reuters. “Mobsters want less guarantees on loans because, for them, the main guarantee is the life of the victim.”

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.

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