Italian “Eco-Mafia” Prospers Through Illegal Dumping and Building

In a moribund Italian economy, one business sector is thriving: the “eco-mafia,” a network of criminal clans and gangs that engage in illegal construction and illegal disposal of hazardous waste, described in a recent report by Legambiente, Italy’s most prominent environmental group. The eco-mafiosi build villas and huge hotels on scenic areas and archeological sites, enabled by bribery of officials; while some of the illegal edifices are torn down, the government retroactively authorizes others by charging a fine per square meter, a practice that enviros say encourages still more unlawful building. Gangsters also cart hazardous waste away from industrial facilities at bargain-basement prices, again facilitated by bribery of civil officials, and bury it in national parks, dump it in abandoned quarries, or, in some cases, fraudulently sell it to farmers as fertilizer. According to Legambiente, the eco-mafia’s profits rose by 14 percent last year, to nearly $23 billion.