From our correspondent in Rome. ” You need help ? This sentence, hundreds of distressed traders have often heard it since the start of the pandemic. Most of the time, it is not their bankers who offer them a helping hand but the emissaries of organized crime who are trying to take advantage of the economic and health crisis to increase their turnover and launder their money. A well-worn system that has been working for years and even more so in this period of great decay. “With the crisis, the situation has worsened even if the local mafias have always been very present in Rome. There is a store in the historic center which changes brand every six months. Suddenly, it’s the bakery created in 1946. The following times, it’s the jeans shop then the Neapolitan coffee house but they never sell anything, or almost: this place is obviously used to launder dirty money. », Confides Roberto N.
Particularly targeted agrifood brands
According to an investigation drawn up by the Coldiretti association, the Neapolitan mafia, better known as the Camorra, already controls some 5,000 businesses including restaurants, pizzerias and bars. The food industry is one of the main objectives of this mafia, says Coldiretti, because it allows it to infiltrate every nook and cranny of society and control daily life. Trade, catering and hotel professionals lost 50.7% of their turnover last year, and 35.5% are now sorely lacking in liquidity, notes, for its part, the Confcommercio association.
When you refuse a helping hand, you have to expect everything, even to see your restaurant go up in smoke.
In this context, falling hand and foot in the nets of organized crime constitutes a concrete risk. The approach techniques are always the same. Men – usually no more than two, according to accounts – push open the door of a store or restaurant and ask the owner if he is coping with this time of crisis. Over the course of the conversation, they offer to buy her business or lend her money. “Two months ago, the riflemen came to see me and asked me if I had been contacted by local criminal organizations,” says Giuseppe Persi. Unlike others, this restaurateur, who is located in the center of Rome, has not received a visit. A chance, he says, because when you refuse a helping hand, you have to expect everything, even seeing your restaurant go up in smoke.
“I know a couple of restaurateurs in Rome who have repeatedly refused to be bought out or loaned out. In the end, their restaurant was burnt down, ”says restaurateur Piero. He, he says, does not risk anything because he grew up in the shadow of the clans which planted their claws in Rome. “When I opened my first restaurant, I went to see guys I know. They told me that if I received an offer from people in the field, I would only have to accept but tell them and that afterwards they would take care of everything and solve the problem. “
Faced with the increase in the number of extortion attempts, the catering association in Rome, FIEPET-Confesercenti, appealed to the authorities. “We asked the prefecture to strengthen controls on the deeds of sale that are filed with the chamber of commerce,” says Claudio Pica, president of this association. Which has also created a support unit for entrepreneurs in difficulty. Objective: to help them put together a file to obtain bank loans and strengthen prevention.
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