In Italy’s largest mafia trial in three decades, the UK’s capital has been roped in as a potential hotspot for organised crime, particularly post-Brexit.
The trial will see around 900 witnesses testify against more than 350 ’Ndrangheta defendants, including politicians and officials charged with being members of Italy’s most powerful criminal group.
Defendants are set to respond to charges of money laundering through companies set up in the UK, with the alleged purpose of mimicking lawful economic activity.
“’Ndrangheta interests in the UK have figured prominently as clans have used the country as an investment and money-laundering base,” the prosecutor whose investigation led to the trial, Nicola Gratteri, said.
The ’Ndrangheta, based in southern Italy, is said to be one of the richest criminal organisations in the world – with an annual turnover of £44bn, according to a study by the Demoskopita Research Institute back in 2013.
With a turnover higher than that of Deutsche Bank and McDonald’s combined, the group has eyed London as its ticket to legitimacy.
Investigators have said that the group’s success has depended on its ability to connect the underworld with the ‘upper world’ – frequently synonymous with London, The Guardian reported.
Over the last decade, Italian investigations have claimed how the ’Ndrangheta has laundered billions of euros into the City.
A 2019 report from Italy’s Antimafia Investigative Directorate claimed that organised crime had funnelled billions of pounds through UK banks each year.
The ’Ndrangheta had no plans to wage a controlling stake in the UK, but instead exploit its financial system, Colonel Claudio Petrozziello of Italy’s Guardia di Finanza, which tracks illegal flows of capital, said.
“It’s not that there are no rules in London,” he added. “The problem is that the risk of mafia infiltration is underestimated.”
Italy’s national anti-mafia prosecutor, Federico Cafiero De Raho, has warned that Brexit may exacerbate organised crime in the country.
Investigators are concerned that the UK’s exit from the European Union will mean police and judicial cooperation between the EU and UK will be less effective than it was before.
“When the UK was part of the European Union, it benefited from the effective sharing of data in the fight against organised crime,” he told The Guardian.
“Now that it has left the EU, problems will start to emerge. London will not be absent, but things will change and even the best post-Brexit cooperation will be less effective than within the EU.
“Today’s mafias are moving among countries and continents, and where they find weakness in international cooperation, they exploit that opportunity.”