Authorities move to halt spread of Italian mafia in Switzerland

Authorities move to halt spread of Italian mafia in Switzerland

3rd January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Recent probes show that Italian organised crime is broadening its activities in Switzerland.

Geneva -- Switzerland has always been a key destination for Italy's mafia bosses to launder their assets or hide their cash, but recent probes show that Italian organised crime is broadening its activities there.

Some groups, in particular the 'Ndrangheta from southern Italy's Calabria region, are also investing in property and businesses here, as well as trafficking arms and drugs through Switzerland, sparking alarm among Swiss law enforcers.

Keen to stop the mafia from spreading its reach in the Swiss economy, federal police this year made the fight against Italian organised crime a priority.

"The 'Ndrangheta is a clear priority of the work of the federal criminal police this year," said Stefan Kunfermann, a spokesman of the Federal Police Office (Fedpol) told AFP.

They have been "moving into investments in construction, property and restaurants" not just in Ticino -- the canton bordering Italy, but also other cantons, he noted.

Switzerland is also being used for "drug trafficking on a large scale" and as a hideout for mafia members being hunted by police, added Kunfermann.

AFP PHOTO
Switzerland has always been a key destination for Italy's mafia bosses to launder their assets or hide their cash, but recent probes show that Italian organised crime is broadening its activities there.

He cited, for instance, a case before the courts in October 2009 of a trafficker who had brought more than 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of cocaine to Switzerland and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

"He was acting under the mandate of a clan of the 'Ndrangheta," said Kunfermann.

"During the summer of 2010, several cases also showed the implantation in particular of the 'Ndrangheta in Switzerland," added the spokesman.

In one example, the head of a mafia clan who was sentenced to 21 years in prison in Calabria had lived for several years in Switzerland.

Another member of the mafia was extradited from Switzerland to Italy after having been sentenced to 11 years in prison for arms and explosives trafficking and concealment, said Kunfermann.

In its latest annual report, Fedpol said it expected the mafia to transfer more of their businesses to Switzerland as they were coming under increasing pressure in Italy "due to the determination of authorities."

Federal judge Jacques Ducry, who completed a probe this year into 'Ndrangheta activities in Switzerland, said the gang had links in Zurich and Ticino.

In an interview with Swiss newspaper Le Temps, Ducry claimed that two financial companies -- PP Finance and World Financial Services -- were controlled by members of organised crime outfits.

"They gathered money that they had stolen in part from their clients by driving the two companies into bankruptcy. They then hid a part of this money and bought land in Sardinia.

"It's the truth and we're talking about tens of millions of francs.

AFP PHOTO / Marcello PATERNOSTRO "Our hypothesis is that these people who run these structures are part of the criminal organisation.

"Behind these figureheads, there are two or three people who go up to Calabria and who take care of these companies very intensively," said Ducry.

Ducry's report was submitted in June to the federal attorney-general's office, said Jeannette Balmer, spokeswoman of the office.

Stephanie Oesch, author of the book "Organised Crime, A Threat for the Swiss Financial Centre?", estimates that the Italian mafia have laundered "between 20 to 30 billion Swiss francs" (20.8 to 31.2 billion US dollars) in the past five years in Switzerland through investments in restaurants, property, art or luxury."

These illegal groups have clearly increased their presence here, a sign that the law is not adapted to act efficiently against them, said Oesch, who is also researcher at the University of Zurich.

Ducry meanwhile warned that Switzerland was not doing enough to tackle the problem.

"Switzerland is rather slow, too bureaucratic -- in my view, examining magistrates need to coordinate better their investigative work with cantons and foreign authorities.

"The law gives investigators significant means to confront organised crime and money laundering, it must be used in a courageous and intelligent manner," he added.

Agnes Pedrero / AFP / Expatica

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