A recent announcement by the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Organised Crime suggested that assets confiscated from the mafia should be re-used for social purposes – and that provisions for such re-use should be included in the proposed EU directive on confiscation. As committee member Salvatore Iacolino said, “To give assets confiscated from mafias back to society has a strong symbolic value”. Of course, the idea of using confiscated criminal assets for the public good is not a new one. Indeed, I have blogged about it myself, back in March. And in many jurisdictions, agreements are in place to incentivise the investigative agencies so that confiscation becomes a priority; when confiscation orders were made against DVD-counterfeiting sisters Susan and Julie-Ann Steel in February 2012, £30,000 each was earmarked for the Suffolk Constabulary and Suffolk Trading Standards. (The money must be spent on relevant anti-crime initiatives – not blown on the mother of all Christmas parties down in Ipswich.)
Even in the world of the mafia, the idea of using their proceeds has been tried before. In Casalesi in Campania, a youth centre and the new local police headquarters have been built on land seized from Giorgio Marano, a former head of the Camorra crime group. And when Giovanni Brusca was sentenced to life imprisonment for between 100 and 200 murders (he lost count, apparently – but one of his victims was definitely Sicilian anti-mafia prosecutor Giovanni Falcone), the police seized his family’s land near Palermo and handed it over to the Consortium for Legal Development, which restores property confiscated from imprisoned mafiosi. The Brusca family farmhouse in San Giuseppe Jato was turned into Sicily’s first anti-mafia agriturismo (farm-stay), and visitors can now enjoy organic pasta milled from wheat grown on Brusca’s land and organic wine made from his vineyards. Lucio Guarino, who runs the Consortium, says: “The Brusca family controlled the fortunes of this territory for nearly thirty years. Here land equals power. And this project shows that with the will of the people, it’s possible to confiscate and restore mafia land.” But it has not been plain sailing: just after the first wheat crop was sown on the confiscated Brusca land, a flock of sheep appeared from nowhere to eat the shoots. And the day before the project’s first grain harvest, every combine harvester in the area mysteriously disappeared.
(On a related note, I see that nowadays newspapers and others tend not to capitalise Mafia – is this because we have decided not to honour them with a capital letter, or is it because “mafia” actually means (or has come to mean) “organised crime group” rather than one specific entity? My spell-check still wants the capital – but then it gets its knix in a twist over the u in behaviour, so what does it know?)