Organised Crime in Italy: The Italian Mafia

Do you want to know who the Italian Mafia are? Want to know how organised crime works in Italy? Our guide to the Mafia in Italy gives you useful facts and information.

The precise origins of the term Mafia are believed by some to originate in the 19th century, while others place it much further back in the history of Italy. Whatever the lexical origins of the term, organised crime has existed in Italy for over one hundred years and is today involved not only in common criminal activities, but also has influence in the Italian  government, the judiciary and the political system.

Mafia Activities in Italy

The Italian Mafia is perhaps best known for its traditional criminal activities such as extortion and running protection rackets. Today’s Mafia in Italy, however, has become much more sophisticated and has diversified its portfolio of criminal activities. Drug dealing, smuggling, kidnap, people trafficking, prostitution rackets, and the bribery of judges and politicians in Italy are all things that the Mafia deals with.

In recent years there have been reports of the younger generation of Mafia leaders in Italy trying to diversify into white collar crime to make more money. Often, the profits of criminal activities carried out by the Italian mafia are re-invested in legitimate business enterprises. The Mafia in Italy constitutes a formidable economic force which accounts for approximately 10% of Italy’s GDP. Annual turnover of the Italian Mafia is estimated at around 10 billion Euros.

Organised Crime Families in Italy

Although the original Mafia in Italy are from Sicily, the problem of organised crime in Italy is something that affects the entire country. Today there are believed to be 4 or 5 main Mafia families operating in Italy and in many cases with criminal enterprises spanning two or three continents. These Mafia families in Italy have up to several thousand members. The main mafia groups in Italy are outlined below.

Sicilian Mafia

The Sicilian Mafia is the original mafia in Italy and dates back to the 19th century. The term Mafia is not one that is actually used by members of this crime organisation in Italy. The term cosa nostra or ‘our thing’ is preferred by Sicilian mafia members. Like all mafia groups in Italy, the Sicilian Mafia operates a code of honour and has a strict hierarchical structure. Recruits to the Mafia are sworn in to the family through secret ceremonies, after which point they become mafia members and are expected to stay so for life.

The Sicilian mafia is most famous to the outside world because of its branch in America which arose out of mass migration from Sicily in the late 19th century. Inside Italy, The Sicilian mafia is particularly known for its assassinations of high profile figures including police chiefs, judges and politicians.

Naples Mafia

The power of the Naples mafia was attested to when in 2004 police were literally surrounded and made hostage by a whole neighbourhood when they tried to capture a leader of the Naples Mafia. The Naples Mafia in Italy is known as the Camorra. The origins of the Naples Mafia are believed to date back to the 19th century when it was formed as a prison gang. Over the years inmates were released and began to operate their criminal enterprises in and around Naples. Today there are believed to be about 7,000 members of the Naples Mafia who operate in about 100 small families. The criminal activities for which the Naples Mafia is most known are cigarette and drug smuggling as well as counterfeiting.

Calabria Mafia

This mafia family in Italy is known as the ‘Ndrangheta. The origins of this mafia group date back to the 19th century when a group of Sicilians were expelled from Sicily by the newly formed unified government. These Sicilians settled in the Calabria region and began to form small crime groups. Today the Calabria Mafia is believed to have about 6,000 members who are particularly hard to infiltrate because the organisation is based on blood ties and marriage.

Puglia Mafia

The Puglia Mafia is known as Sacra Corona Unita or SCU which means the sacred united crown. This is the newest of the Mafia groups in Italy and only became known in the 1980’s. It is believed to have originated as a prison gang whose inmates settled in the Puglia region upon release. This Mafia gang collects money from other Mafia families in Italy for landing rights in south east Italy, which is a lucrative enterprise because this is where all the smuggled goods and people from Eastern Europe are most likely to land.

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