WaPo: Sting operations reveal Mafia involvement in renewable energy
WaPo Jan 22, 2013: Inside a midnight-blue BMW, a Sicilian entrepreneur delivered his pitch to the accused mafia boss. A new business was blowing into Italy that could spin wind and sunlight into gold, ensuring the future of the Earth as well as the Cosa Nostra: renewable energy.
“Uncle Vincenzo,” implored the businessman, Angelo Salvatore, using a term of affection for the alleged head of Sicily’s Gimbellina crime family, 79-year-old Vincenzo Funari. According to a transcript of their wiretapped conversation, Salvatore continued, “for the love of our sons, renewable energy is important. . . . it’s a business we can live on.”
And for quite awhile, Italian prosecutors say, they did. In an unfolding plot that is part “The Sopranos,” part “An Inconvenient Truth,” authorities swept across Sicily last month in the latest wave of sting operations revealing years of deep infiltration into the renewable energy sector by Italy’s rapidly modernizing crime families.
The still-emerging links of the mafia to the once-booming wind and solar sector here are raising fresh questions about the use of government subsidies to fuel a shift toward cleaner energies, with critics claiming huge state incentives created excessive profits for companies and a market bubble ripe for fraud. China-based Suntech, the world’s largest solar panel maker, last month said it would need to restate more than two years of financial results because of allegedly fake capital put up to finance new plants in Italy. The discoveries here also follow so-called “eco-corruption” cases in Spain, where a number of companies stand accused of illegally tapping state aid….
According to court documents, wiretap transcripts and interviews with officials familiar with the investigations, mafia involvement in the renewables sector followed a familiar path. Crime families and businessmen would target land suitable for wind or solar plants, sometimes pressuring landowners to sell or offer long-term leases. Corrupt local officials were enlisted to speed through application processes that could otherwise take three to six years. After receiving approval, they would approach foreign investors eager to tap the Italian government’s green subsidies program.
Some foreign investors involved in the projects apparently did not know the extent of the illegality they were stepping into. “But others just didn’t want to know,” said one official familiar with the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press….
Citing its poor finances and a mountain of debt, the Italian government is now curbing new subsidies for renewable energies. A nationwide program has also been rolled out requiring developers to sign affidavits proving they have no links to organized crime.
In Sicily, where a new anti-mafia government came to power in November, construction of most new renewable projects has been stopped.
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