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 to pay over $1bn for 100m doses of J&J’s potential COVID-19 vaccine

Updated 05 August 2020

US to pay over $1bn for 100m doses of J&J’s potential COVID-19 vaccine

  • The latest contract equates to roughly $10 per vaccine dose produced by J&J
  • This is J&J’s first deal to supply its investigational vaccine to a country

WASHINGTON: The United States government will pay Johnson & Johnson over $1 billion for 100 million doses of its potential coronavirus vaccine, its latest such arrangement as the race to tame the pandemic intensifies, the drugmaker said on Wednesday.
It said it would deliver the vaccine to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) on a not-for-profit basis to be used after approval or emergency use authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
J&J has already received $1 billion in funding from the US government — BARDA agreed in March to provide that money for the company to build manufacturing capacity for more than 1 billion doses of the experimental vaccine.
The latest contract equates to roughly $10 per vaccine dose produced by J&J. Including the first $1 billion deal with the USgovernment, the price would be slightly higher than the $19.50 per dose that the United States is paying for the vaccine being developed by Pfizer Inc. and German biotech BioNTech SE.
The US government may also purchase an additional 200 million doses under a subsequent agreement. J&J did not disclose that deal’s value.
J&J plans to study a one- or two-dose regimen of the vaccine in parallel later this year. A single-shot regimen could allow more people to be vaccinated with the same number of doses and would sidestep issues around getting people to come back for their second dose.
This is J&J’s first deal to supply its investigational vaccine to a country. Talks are underway with the European Union, but no deal has yet been reached.
J&J’s investigational vaccine is currently being tested on healthy volunteers in the United States and Belgium in an early-stage study.
There are currently no approved vaccines for COVID-19. More than 20 are in clinical trials.