In the original movie ‘The Godfather’, Don Corleone is often shown offering his son and designated heir Santino, aka ‘Sonny’ motivational guidance toward achieving success in the ‘Family’ business. Concerned by Sonny’s impulsive nature, Don Corleone tries to steer his son to adopting a more analytical and philosophical approach to racketeering observing that “a lawyer with a briefcase can steal more than a thousand men with guns.” As wise as this may sound, this adaptation of the famous ‘pen is mightier than the sword’ aphorism attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, has suddenly become redundant. Vito Corleone’s 21st century heir would have replaced the ‘lawyer’ of briefcase fame with the supplier of turnkey wind and solar energy generation plants. Indeed, green energy is ‘all the rage’ with the Mafioso set. As pointed out in an earlier article by the publisher, Tracy Weslosky, the Italian Anti-Mafia Investigation Department (DIA) seized some 1.3 billion Euros in assets – the largest ever single seizure of mafia assets in Italy ever – from one Vito Nicastri, the “the King of Renewables”. Signor Nicastri, therefore, has a good excuse not to attend the Technology Metals Summit – not that he had been invited- but his arrest does hint that green energy is not just ‘green’ because of that color’s environmental associations: there is money to be made from renewable energy.
Nicastri managed to develop close ties to some of the biggest mafiosi, thanks to whom he experienced a makeover from a contractor electrician to a specialist in the development of power plants from renewable sources. One of his major ties was cemented (no pun intended) with one Mr. Messina Denaro in Trapani, known as the last of the Corleonesi and Sicily’s current ‘Godfather’. Initially overlooked, in the last ten years, the boom in alternative energy sources has even managed to seduce the Mafia, which used them gain profits from building turnkey facilities on behalf of legal entities and to launder money from illegal trafficking. The investments in a clean and profitable sector are legitimate enough; the indiscretion have more to do with the dangerous background of those working through the maze of local politics, banks, corporations and businesses in some of Italy’s most mafia ridden regions. Not surprisingly, most wind farms have been built in Sicily, Puglia and Calabria – not the regions with the highest potential for wind generation.
The ‘overlooking’ aspect is one of the keys to understanding how the mafia got involved. Quite simply, they recognized the potential of renewable energy sources before the ‘honest’ sectors of society. The mafia has capitalized on laws that promote and finance renewable energy, especially solar and wind sources. The mafia then used its connections in the construction – including licensing through corrupt politicians “like so many nickels and dimes” – and transportation sectors to secure even pristine locations to build their facilities. Because the government was slow to realize green energy’s potential as well, the mafia also took advantage of a complete void of any zone planning system to regulate the areas where it would be possible to install solar panels and wind turbines. The absence of clear rules granted excessive discretion in the hands of public officials, while the mafia’s ability for ‘fundraising’ gave it an edge. The bureaucratic difficulties then possibly stimulated honest investors to delegate ‘paperwork’ to the mafia to speed up the permitting process.
Essentially the criminal organizations stepped in, pre-empting everyone else depriving Italy’s poorest regions of pursuing opportunities for development. The mafia was enabled by a legal vacuum in the field, the lack of an effective national energy plan and by the slow and complicated bureaucracy that favor more those operating in the dark shadows than those in the green sector. Italians, through the ballot box, amply demonstrated they want a renewable energy future. Interestingly, Italy by 2011 had the second highest number of photovoltaic power installations; unfortunately, many of them were set up by the wrong people. In spite of the low wind potential, meanwhile, Italy has seen a strong growth of wind power plants. At the end of 2011 was the third largest in Europe. In particular, between 2005 and 2011, the ability to generate energy from the wind is up by 32% a year, compared with 21% in the rest of Europe,” According to a study published March 13 in English, made by three professors of economics at the Cattolica University of Milan and the Transcrime Center ( Stefano Caneppele, Michael Riccardi and Priscilla Standridge). The study showed that small municipalities are more vulnerable because the staff is inexperienced and generally more exposed to threats, retaliation or corruption on the part of the mafia.
The types of incentives for abuse of office vary from funding promises to campaign support for local politicians in addition to all the standard bribes in exchange for support in the authorization phase. Moreover, investors, contractors and subcontractors, when coming from the green and legal world, may then be subjected to racketeering, given that so many of the facilities have been built in areas with a history of organized crime and because of the mafia’s links to the world of building materials, transportation and installation. Upon completion, the mafia may then demands tribute from the entrepreneurs to avoid unwanted ‘accidents’ from sabotage to vandalism.
Forty years ago, the notion of clean energy was limited. Today it represents an important reality and in the future, green energy will become even more so. In Western economies green energy and its related technology have assumed a central role in their political agendas, especially in Europe. The intent of facilitating the construction of wind farms, thanks to the provision of substantial financial incentives has ignored the problem of criminal infiltration into legal enterprise, making investments in wind farms have also become a very profitable business for organized crime. The mafia is not welcome at the Technology Metals Summit, but it seems that given the gap in how to profit from it that exists between it and legal operators, this event should be mandatory for anyone in the green technology sector: you know, to get a little ‘wiser’.