[en] “Hands on the city” – How Milan became ‘Ndrangheta new capital

“Le mani sulla città” (Hands on the City) is a book written by Barbacello and Milosa, two journalists from “Il Fatto Quotidiano”. It looks at one of Italy’s darkest sides: ‘Ndrangheta infiltration in Milan and in the North of Italy in general. ‘Ndrangheta is the Mafia of Calabria. It is currently the country’s strongest criminal organization, with a well-developed military structure and almost complete territorial control in many areas of Calabria. Its emerging power is also rooted in profit from cocaine trafficking, decades of direct relations with Colombian mafias, and long-standing contact with Salvatore Mancuso, the former head of the Colombian extreme right-wing umbrella organization of self-defense groups (AUC) and whose father was originally from Calabria.

‘Ndrangheta’s organization does not resemble that of other Italian mafias. Mirroring Latin American criminal organizations, it seems closer to a cartel, or a sort of federation of clans. Groups of families work together using a number of controlled firms across a fairly large geographical area, and showing a large degree of military and financial autonomy. They follow a code of conduct (or “business ethics”) which derives from their shared roots: traditional values, respect and loyalty. ‘Ndrangheta rapidly managed to control the best quality cocaine coming to Italy and the capital accumulated has easily found its way into the official Italian economy. According to the two journalists, Milan, Italy’s business capital, has also become the ‘Ndrangheta’s new capital.

A few figures illustrate the importance of the phenomenon. The Mexican journalist Rodriguez has pointed out that, in 2007-08, ‘Ndrangheta’s profit of 44bn euros was equal to the sum of the profits of four Mexican cartels (the Sinaloa, Juarez, Tijuana, and the Gulf). Even world-famous drug traffickers such as the Colombian Pablo Escobar or the Mexican ‘El Chapo’ Guzman never achieved these amounts. ‘Ndrangheta is a criminal firm with the profits of a multinational company, more than half of which come from drug trafficking. In 2007-08, cocaine consumption in Milan increased by 27%. In 2010, it increased by 40%. Today, one in six people in Milan snort cocaine in the ceaseless market of addiction.

Barbacello and Milosa show how “i picciotti” (‘Ndrangheta’s members) began to enter Milan and started doing business with a network of “friends” who belonged to the city’s high bourgeoisie. They explain how “i picciotti” built relationships with local administrations by obtaining public contracts in exchange for delivering votes in the political campaigns of the center-right coalition (PDL). The book reports the names of important politicians listed in the files of the Public Prosecutor (Ilda Boccassini) and the Anti-Mafia Prosecutors. These include La Russa (the former Italian Defense Minister) and some of his family, and also Marcello Dell’Utri (a member of Forza Italia). Dell’Utri was later sentenced to seven years in jail for Mafia links but no evidence was found to incriminate La Russa.

The book highlights that Milan’s former Mayor, Letizia Moratti, together with the current Regional President, Roberto Formigoni (both of whom belong to the PDL) have always officially denied Mafia infiltration in Lombardy and dismissed its presence as merely non-systemic. Anti-Mafia Public Prosecutors consider these types of statements as potentially dangerous because they somehow automatically create the conditions for such infiltration. In fact, these organizations do not aim to be substitutes for institutional powers or to control existing ones, preferring instead to get themselves into political and economic places. Ultimately these criminal organizations are interested in profit and fit in well with other unscrupulous entrepreneurs who do not have links with armed groups but need capital. This fit allows Mafia organizations to silently enter the economic and financial structures of a city such as Milan. Examples of this include the confirmed involvement of ‘Ndrangheta in the construction of High Speed railway Lines (TAV) in Lombardy and of the Milan-Venice highway, and its involvement in public contracts for the 2015 Milan Expo. All of these cases are well reported in the book.

The recent election of Giuliano Pisapia from the Left Ecology and Freedom party as the Mayor of Milan seems to have changed institutional attitudes toward the situation. The City Council now has an internal Anti-Mafia committee, which will respond politically to this new emergency. On February 13, 2012, in the presence of Interior Minister Cancellieri, the committee approved an anti-mafia protocol. This lays out strict criteria for private firms tendering for city contracts for the construction and modernization of buildings for the 2015 Milan Expo. These criteria aim to improve controls over firms in order to avoid any type of Mafia infiltration into public contracts. The No Expo 2015 Committee, however, believes that these measures will not be enough to contain ’Ndrangheta abuses of public funds. Committee activists say that during periods of economic downturn, such as the one in which we are living, “hunger for capital” also loosens financial controls in apparently “clean” firms.

Nonetheless, early in 2012, following a wave of cold weather across Italy, the City Council decided to provide a few nights’ shelter for 40 homeless people in the notorious “For a King” night club. This club had been opened by the Morabito family on the top floor of a building owned by a public company, Sogemi, which controls Milan’s fruit and vegetable market. The club soon became the symbol of ‘Ndrangheta infiltration in Milan. Its symbolic use as a shelter for homeless people was generally regarded as showing the commitment of the local administration to fight the Mafia.


[es] Rodriguez C.,2009, Contacto en Italia: el pacto entre los Zetas y la ‘Ndrangheta, Debate, Ciudad de Mexico
[it] Barbacello G., Milosa D., 2011, Le mani sulla citta’, Chiare Lettere Editore, Milano
[it] Linkiesta.it
[it] Il Corriere della sera
[it] Il fatto quotidiano
[it] Notav.eu about ‘Ndrangheta in Piemonte


1 Response to [en] “Hands on the city” – How Milan became ‘Ndrangheta new capital

  1. Pingback: [en] What is really happening in Bologna | Struggles in Italy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s