The Mafia likes the Netherlands
Giovanni Strangio was arrested on 12 march 2009 in a suburban housing development outside Amsterdam. He is the prime suspect in a bloody Mafia killing in Germany. The fact that Mafiosi appear to be left in peace in the Netherlands is a sore point with the authorities in Italy.
Before Mr Strangio’s alleged killing spree in Germany in 2007, which left six people dead at the Da Bruno restaurant in Duisburg, the ’Ndrangheta Mafia ‘family’ was little known outside Italy.
The ’Ndrangheta originated in the southern Italian region of Calabria and has grown to become the world’s most important Mafia gang. It controls the trafficking of cocaine into Europe, an import business worth about 45 billion euros a year.
The clan’s activities are spread all over the world. Former chairman of Rome’s parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission Francesco Forgione says the Netherlands is a favourite haunt of the criminals.
“Holland is at the centre of Europe’s cocaine routes. This is largely thanks to the Port of Rotterdam and the proximity of Germany. The Netherlands is also a favourite place for the criminals to invest their illicit profits or to go to ground. It’s not like they’re in the country just to traffick cocaine. They also need to do their money laundering.”
Table and 13 chairs
Other Mafia families such as the Comorra and Cosa Nostra also operate outside Italy. However, the ’Ndrangheta clan more than any other seems to want to bring with them all the structures and rituals of home. A table with 13 chairs was found at the back of the Da Bruno restaurant in Duisburg after the 2007 killings. Back in Calabria, the same seating arrangement is used for ritual initiation into the ’Ndrangheta.
Forgione says it is quite likely that there is a similar room with the table and 13 chairs somewhere in Amsterdam. “One thing is certain, the ’Ndrangheta has put down roots in the Dutch capital.” He says between 10 to 15 Italian Mafia families are operating in the Netherlands, mostly out of Amsterdam. Most of them have their roots in Calabria.
In his bestseller Camorra, Roberto Saviano, who has received numerous death threats, says fugitive Mafia boss Augusto la Torre lived for years in the Netherlands. He stayed with Raffaele Barbato, alias Rockefeller, who came from the same Italian village, and was running two Amsterdam casinos at the time. Millions of euros belonging to Mr la Torre and his clan are said to be in a bank safe deposit box somewhere in the Netherlands.
Why is the Netherlands so popular with the Mafia? Simple: it is an open country, with good brothels, a liberal drugs policy and relatively lenient police and judicial authorities. In short, if a Mafia criminal keeps a reasonably low profile, not much will happen to him here.
Italy finds the Dutch approach to prosecuting Mafia criminals lax. Nicola Gratteri, a senior Italian prosecutor involved in cases against the ’Ndrangheta: “Dutch politicians will only do anything if the papers are full of it or the electorate demands it. If that doesn’t happen, they just pretend the problem doesn’t exist.”
Europe is also keeping quiet. The dropping of European border controls has allowed the Mafia to go and settle where they please. The police and judicial authorities, meanwhile, have not yet got to grips with cross-border crime.
This is all very frustrating for Italian prosecuting magistrates who complain that the laws of the various EU countries are far from integrated. There are calls for a more pan-European legal system.
Piero Grasso, head of Italy’s anti-Mafia unit, dreams of a kind of European FBI. “The crimes are committed in various countries. So, we have to collect evidence in those different countries to make cross-border charges stick.”
But the European machine is slow, allowing the ’Ndrangheta’s men to concentrate on the import of cocaine, buying up real estate and doing away with their rivals outside Italian restaurants.
Angelo van Schaik
Photo credit: mrkalhoon