Arrests made over mafia plan to profit from Italy lockdown

Charges range from extortion, getting stolen goods, money laundering, drug trafficking and fraud. (Social media)
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Updated 13 May 2020

Arrests made over mafia plan to profit from Italy lockdown

  • Right after the national lockdown started on March 9, prosecutors warned that the mafia would try their best to profit from the pandemic

ROME: Italian police arrested 91 mafia bosses, underlings, loan sharks and frontmen belonging to two Palermo clans operating in Milan, in a probe into the mob’s efforts to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to infiltrate the country’s economy.
Other Sicilian clans, including the Acquasanta and the Arenella, were also hit by the police raid.
Prosecutors in Palermo, Sicily, said the Cosa Nostra was set to spring into action and snap up crisis-hit firms that were forced to shut down because of the national lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The two Palermo clans, the Ferrante and the Fontana, allegedly coordinated criminal activities from Milan, police said.
Charges range from mafia association to extortion, receiving stolen goods, money laundering, drug trafficking and a range of fraud, police said.
The three brothers leading the Fontana clan, Angelo, Giovanni and Gaetano, were captured in Milan. Police also arrested a former “Big Brother” contestant accused of acting as a frontman for the mob.
Crime experts have warned that the mafia could take over struggling businesses and curry favor among the population by distributing food to the needy.
Along with traditional criminal activities such as extortion, drug trafficking and illegal betting, the Palermo mobsters had already branched out into the legal economy.
They controlled the local boat yard, market, butcher, bars and supermarkets, and traded in coffee and luxury watches.
Right after the national lockdown started on March 9, prosecutors warned that the mafia would try their best to profit from the pandemic.
“In the last few decades, they’ve invested in multi-service companies (canteens, cleaning), waste recycling, transportation, funeral homes, oil and food distribution. The mafias know what you have, and will need, and they give it, and will give it, on their own terms,” Palermo Chief Prosecutor Francesco Lo Voi told Arab News.
“We’d seen all this coming in the past few weeks. Now we have the facts. The mafia will make the most of this health emergency to infiltrate the legal economy and increase its business,” he added.
“No business can escape from their attack, especially in this particular moment. People have no money. Those who made their living by working off the books earned nothing in the lockdown as they weren’t eligible for government benefits. They all could become new ‘soldiers’ for the mob.”
Police believe that clans are using dirty money to buy restaurants and luxury hotels for next to nothing.
“That’s a perfect way to launder their money,” Lo Voi said. “Emissaries of the mob have been reported in the past few weeks to have ‘visited’ owners of restaurants and even luxury hotels, which have been closed for the lockdown and will struggle to go back to business. They offer them a low amount of cash compared to the actual value of the property. If the owner doesn’t immediately agree to sell, they warn him that they’ll return the following week and offer him half the initial sum. Many entrepreneurs agree to sell off their properties to the mobsters because they fear they won’t be able to survive the economic crisis after the lockdown.”


US ‘cloud’ supremacy has Europe worried about data

Updated 27 min 10 sec ago

US ‘cloud’ supremacy has Europe worried about data

  • Europe is sitting on a wealth of data that is the 21st century equivalent of a precious metal mine
  • Europeans may be allowing American tech giants to gain control of all the excavation equipment

PARIS: Europe is sitting on a wealth of data that is the 21st century equivalent of a precious metal mine during the gold rush.
But instead of exploiting it themselves Europeans may be allowing American tech giants to gain control of all the excavation equipment, some experts say, pointing to a flurry of European companies announcing deals with US tech players for cloud services.
Renault, Orange, Deutsche Bank, and Lufthansa recently plumped for Google Cloud. Volkswagen signed up with Amazon Web Services. The French health ministry chose Microsoft to house its research data.
The cloud is a term for offering data storage and processing services externally so clients don’t need to invest as much in costly gear.
This trend has sparked concern particularly in Germany, which has a rich trove of data thanks to its powerful industrial sector.
The EU is “losing its influence in the digital sphere at the moment it is taking a central role in the continent’s economy” warned a recent report by a group of experts and media leaders under the leadership of the former head of German software firm SAP, Henning Kagermann.
“The majority of European data is stocked outside of Europe, or, if stocked in Europe, is on servers that belong to non-European firms,” it noted.

A senior French official recently delivered an even more blunt assessment in a meeting with IT professionals.
“We have an enormous security and sovereignty issue with clouds” said the official at the meeting, which AFP attended on the condition of respecting the anonymity of participants.
“In many cases it is convenience or a sellout” by European companies and institutions “because it is simpler” to sign up with US tech giants than find European options, said the official.
“However we have very good firms offering cloud and data services,” he added.
One of the causes of concern for Europeans comes from the Cloud Act, a piece of legislation adopted in 2018 that gives US intelligence agencies access in certain cases to data hosted by US firms, no matter where the server may be physically located.
“My company is American and I know very well what the implications are of the legislation,” said a Franco-American executive.
“And given what is happening in US policy debates, that situation won’t be getting better.”
Beyond the integrity of data, it is the capacity to analyze and exploit that information that worries many European experts and policymakers.

If in Europe “we are just capable of generating data and need others to exploit it then we are going to end up in the same situation as countries with mineral resources that rely on others to process it and end up with meagre economic benefits,” said the French official.
The French and Germans unveiled in June the GAIA-X project that aims to develop a competitive European cloud offer.
Rather than encourage the development of a European champion — in the mold of Airbus in response to Boeing — that would offer the full gamut of services, the project takes a different tack.
It aims to set standards so different firms could offer storage, processing, security and artificial intelligence services seamlessly. It would operate as a marketplace of sorts where each client could find the services they need without having to leave European jurisdiction.
It is hoped GAIA-X’s decentralized model might prove a better fit with the issues raised by treatment of data from connected devices.