Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Italian Police: Mafia skimmed millions from migrant funds

The mafia has moved in on one of Italy's few growth industries: caring for migrants. Italian authorities arrested 68 people, including a priest and the head of a huge Catholic volunteer group, "Mercy," and accused them of being in cahoots with a major mafia clan that allegedly skimmed millions in public funds destined for asylum-seekers at a welcome centre in southern Italy.

Announcing the arrests, Carabinieri Gen. Giuseppe Governale summarized the scam: "The welcome centre and 'Mercy' were the ATMs of the mafia." Investigators said the Arena clan of the Calabrian 'ndrangheta mob had secured a lock on servicing the Isola di Capo Rizzuto migrant centre for the past decade, thanks in part to its links to "Mercy" and its regional head, Leonardo Sacco.

Sacco is a well-connected Italian, and his arrest took on broader implications given the number of politicians linked to him. Even Pope Francis has been photographed with him. The Calabrian holding centre is one of Italy's largest, and "Mercy" is a major national organization that runs migrant centres and provides other volunteer services around the country.

Police said the Rev. Edoardo Scordio, a parish priest affiliated with "Mercy," was the "organizer of a true system of exploitation of public funds destined for the migrant emergency." The Arena clan skimmed some 36 million euros ($39.5 million) of the 103 million in public funds destined for migrant care at the centre between 2006-2015. Scam money went to buy real estate, fancy cars and luxury boats.

Scordio in 2007 pocketed 132,000 euros for his spiritual services that he offered the refugees.