Mafia turns the health sector into a profitable cow in virus-struck Italy

The mafia’s potential targets include building and repairing hospitals. (AP photo)

ROME: In coronavirus-stricken Italy, mafia groups are looking to the health sector and infrastructure projects funded by the European Union as the next biggest financial firms, police warned in a report on Wednesday.

“It is possible to envisage large criminal investments in companies operating in the so-called health chain,” the Italian anti-mafia police investigation (DIA) wrote in a semi-annual report to Parliament.

The DIA said potential targets include building and repairing hospitals, production and supply of medical equipment, hospital waste disposal, health and funeral services.

Police also said it is “very likely” that mafia organizations will try to “intercept the new financing channels” that are to be made available to modernize Italian infrastructure and modernize its economy.

This is an indication of the more than 200 billion euros that Rome expects to receive from the European Union’s Coronavirus Recovery Fund during the period 2021-2026.

The DIA called for “extreme vigilance” about companies bidding for public tenders for the health sector, noting that recent changes to the company in ownership, structure, or office location could be a sign of mafia infiltration.

They also said that talk of simplifying public bidding procedures – to reduce the risk of delays in projects funded by the European Union – “must be accompanied by careful and swift monitoring of the anti-mafia.”

Italian organized crime groups such as Ndrangheta and Cosa Nostra in Calabria in Sicily have a proven track record of infiltrating major public works projects, often through political relations.

In its report, the DIA indicated that Ndrangheta and Cosa Nostra have taken advantage of the economic crisis created by the epidemic in order to split loans to struggling business owners.

The report added that they received the poor by distributing food aid or providing informal jobs on the black market to people who were unemployed due to the crisis.

In the past year, the Italian economy shrank by nearly 9%, in the worst recession since World War II, and nearly 450,000 people lost their jobs – most of them women, young workers and the self-employed.

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