From horse heads to blogs, mafia threats evolve

ROME Sat Dec 3, 2011 1:47pm GMT

ROME (Reuters) - While 21st century Italian mobsters still use bullets, anonymous phone calls and dead animals to make threats, they've also found a new tool of intimidation: blogging.

Italian mayors and local administrators received 212 threats last year, according to a new report showing the continuing influence of organised crime on Italian society and politics, especially in the nation's underdeveloped south.

In the past 20 years, 202 city governments have been dissolved because they were controlled by organised crime syndicates, said the report released on Friday by Avviso Pubblico, an association of local and regional governments.

The most common ways to threaten administrators who refused to collude with the criminal syndicates was to burn their cars, mail them envelopes containing bullets, or send boxes with severed animal heads, an act reminiscent of a memorable scene involving the head of a racehorse in "The Godfather."

However, a more modern method, anonymous blogging, was used to target Carolina Girasole, mayor of a town of 15,000 in southern Italy.

"I don't feel safe," said Girasole, 48, in a telephone interview from Isola Capo Rizzuto in the Calabria region, where the powerful 'Ndrangheta organisation is based.

"The blog shows that these people are willing to do and say anything to make us leave. If we don't go, and we don't have any intention to, what will be their next move?"

The authors, who write anonymously on a blog hosted by WordPress, "know my movements. They know what I do," she said.

Last year, the 'Ndrangheta made 41 percent of the threats, double the number made by the Mafia in Sicily, according to the study.

THREATS

As new Prime Minister Mario Monti battles to regain control of Italy's battered public finances and overhaul a stagnant economy, organised crime remains a constant drag on business and employment as well as a threat to law and order.

Italy's accounting court estimates that corruption among public officials amounted to 60 billion euros in Italy last year, while the Bank of Italy said that as much as 150 billion euros in dirty money is laundered every year.

Organised crime bosses need support from the local population, and for that they need to control local governments and administrators, said Raffaele Cantone, a prosecutor in Naples, where the Camorra organisation operates.

"When they can't control the election of the mayor directly, the clans use threats to try to gain back influence," he said during the presentation of the report.

In the province that includes Girasole's town of Isola Capo Rizzuto, more than 18 percent of the city governments said they had received threats, according to the report.

E-mails, faxes and even graffiti were used to make threats. Pets were killed, bombs were planted in front of homes and offices, and private orchards of orange, olive and hazelnut trees were cut down.

When the threats don't work, killing can sometimes be the next step.

One mayor, Angelo Vassallo, was shot and killed last year because of his effort to provide honest and transparent governance in the seaside town of Pollica, south of Naples. Local politician Francesco Fortugno was shot dead in 2005 as he voted in primaries for the Democratic Party in Locri, Calabria.

(Reporting By Steve Scherer; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)