MICHELE NORRIS, host:
There is a foul smell coming from the Italian city of Naples. The city is suffocating under mountains of garbage. Last month, the trash spilled out into the streets. The local mafia, known as the Camorra, runs the illegal waste management business there without any accountability.
NPR's Sylvia Poggioli spoke with a young journalist who infiltrated the Camorra and wrote a firsthand account of his investigation.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Roberto Saviano has carefully studied the nuts and bolts of the Camorra's waste management business, which allows northern regions, like Tuscany and Umbria, to remain bucolic while illegally dumping their waste at low cost in the south.
Mr. ROBERTO SAVIANO (Journalist; Author, "Gomorrah"): (Through translator) The Camorra has disposed of all kind of dangerous toxic waste from northern companies — printer toners, residues from leather tanneries, harmful dust from pharmaceutical companies - which they mix with cement, non-metal car parts, and even the remains of the dead from pauper graves that have to be disposed of every 50 years.
POGGIOLI: Saviano says anti-mafia investigators estimate the Camorra's turnover just in illegal waste management is close to $1 billion a year. In a region where there are no high-tech incinerators, more and more agricultural land has been bought up for landfills. And medical research has shown the region's soil is increasingly poisonous, the long-term effects of which can only be guessed at.
Mr. SAVIANO: (Through translator) This led to a silent plague that has killed hundreds and hundreds of people. I'm scared not only but what I drink and breathe, but what really terrifies me is the idea of having children.
POGGIOLI: Roberto Saviano goes everywhere with a 24-hour police escort. For over a year, he has been living under a Camorra death sentence triggered by his book "Gomorrah." It has sold a million copies in Italy and recently came out in the U.S. Naples has the highest murder rate in Europe. More than 100 were killed last year. The region has Europe's highest ratio of drug dealers to inhabitants.
Saviano believes the Camorra is bigger, more powerful and more dangerous than the better known Sicilian Cosa Nostra.
Mr. SAVIANO: (Through translator) They sell drugs outside, to Sicilian, Roman, in Lombardy, in France. It is banned for locals to consume drugs. If locals sniff the coke, the bosses will break their bones. They do that to control the territory and their subordinates. The Camorristi are also moralists. They don't want drug addicts or homosexuals among their ranks.
POGGIOLI: Saviano says in the suburb of Mondragone, there's a group that goes around killing addicts and even people with HIV to ensure the virus does not spread. Besides cocaine, the other major Camorra activity is high-fashion knockoffs. Saviano says investigators have shown that the fashion industry is the Camorra's favorite sector to launder money.
Mr. SAVIANO: (Through translator) Every top Italian designer label is copied, but none of these designers has ever denounced the counterfeiters. And the reason is that the knockoff market is actually useful for the designer label. It offers free publicity. It makes the designs visible all over the world, and it ensures their popularity. Moreover, very often, the original and the copies are made with identical fabrics, in the same shops, by the same seamstresses all controlled by the Camorra.
POGGIOLI: Saviano says the problem for authorities is that the Camorra's criminal enterprises are so closely enmeshed with legitimate businesses they are practically unassailable.
Mr. SAVIANO: (Through translator) The Italian state and the European community are faced with a dilemma. Organized crimes in Italy generates huge sums of money. The three major mafias have a turnover of 100 billion Euros a year. The small business federation says organized crime is the biggest business in Italy. It accounts for 7 percent of the GNP. This means that in an area where no one invests, organized crime is major provider of jobs and control votes. Who can dismantle this?
POGGIOLI: Saviano says this means that one-third of Italy is in the grips of organized crime and condemned to a permanent state of underdevelopment.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News.
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