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Italian mafia groups are cashing in on COVID-19 by exploiting the social and economic crisis

The social and economic crisis left in the wake of the ongoing Covid-19 health pandemic is being capitalised on in Italy by a mafia group called Camorra.

One million people have been pushed into poverty in the country as a result of it, while another 8 million are temporarily unemployed.

The Camorra has seen it as an opportunity to offer those in need 'help' when they could not get state support.

For this week's Unreported Europe, Euronews went to Scampia, one of the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Naples, to find out more.

Local resident Marco, whose name we have changed, managed to go back to work after the lockdown.

However, he and his family are not declaring the work they are doing in Scampia - which is rife with organised crime.

"We are five people and we live with almost nothing. Two hundred euros, two fifty. We come here twice a week trying to earn something," he said.

Previously, Marco worked as a blacksmith with his father until 1996. Since then, he has done all sorts of work but has never declared it.

"It’s like defeat, honestly. Underground work is not good, but one has to do it in order to survive," he explained.

Marco asked for council housing in 2012, but has not received it. He moved into a flat in one of the so-called Velei's ten years ago. The housing estates have become an emblem of lawlessness - tolerated but abandoned by the State.

"Fortunately, I am able to save some money here. I’m not proud of it, but I pay no rent, no electricity. We squat in this place. This is the only way we can get by. If we had to rely on the State, we would have starved to death. They don’t come here to see what’s good and what's bad. They abandoned us, that’s it," he said.

People like Marco have become easy prey for the mafia groups, as national anti-mafia prosecutor, Federico Cafiero De Raho, explained: "Poverty is the first area of intervention for the various Italian mafia groups, both for recruitment and to gain social power.

"There are young people who felt that the support offered by the Camorra was the only way to meet the basic survival needs for their families," he said.

Whilst the Italian government has been criticised for its lack of social support, its law enforcement has been strong for years. Post-lockdown, the police expected an increase of criminal activity and have been on alert, as Alfredo Fabbrocini, head of mobile policing in Naples explained.

"We have a flexible strategy. It changes at the same pace organised crime patterns change but we also try to anticipate their moves. We try to understand from the street how the Camorra is adapting its activity and try to stop it.

"The Camorra has not gained strength from the lockdown. It tries to diversify its criminal activity as it needs to earn money. It’s not stronger, it’s just hungrier," he added.

It is estimated that Italian Mafia groups earn over 30 billion euros each year, just through drug trafficking. The Camorra needs to find financial channels to hide its money and the easiest way is through businesses, so the groups lend money to those struggling, even when their illicit loans can’t be paid back.

"When the money cannot be returned, the Camorra takes advantage of that. Because of the money the Camorra can acquire management of the business. From that moment on, the Camorra will use that company as a conduit to launder its own illicit money," Alfredo Fabbrocini said.

Extortion has also resumed on top of loan-sharking, with Camorra collecting protection money, known as pizzo, as soon as the lockdown was lifted.

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