Ruffians in Rome


The mafia returns to Italy’s capital

ON AUGUST 27th the coastal district of Rome, with a population of around 230,000, became the biggest administrative unit in Italy to be put under direct government control because of mobster subversion. The chairman of its council had been arrested in June, accused of chumminess with a band of alleged gangsters who will be put on trial in November. Prosecutors claim that they developed corrupt ties involving politicians and officials not only in Ostia, Rome’s recreational port and playground, but in other parts of the city too. The overall council for the metropolis only narrowly avoided being disbanded on grounds of infiltration by mafiosi.
For years Italians had assumed that although Sicily and much of the south were prey to the mafia, their beautiful capital was much less vulnerable: the last criminal syndicate to win notoriety in Rome was the so-called Banda della Magliana in the 1970s and 1980s. Recent events have shown that comforting vision to be wrong on two counts. Italy’s southern mafias have been quietly building stakes in the capital’s economy, and Rome has been revealed to host an autonomous underworld more extensive, organised and powerful than anyone knew.
In January police raided and closed a chain of more than 20 pizzerias allegedly belonging to the Camorra, the mafia of the southern city of Naples and its surrounding area, Campania. Since March, three well-known restaurants in Rome have been sequestered amid claims that they were owned by the ’Ndrangheta, a criminal group originating in Calabria, another southern region.
Most recently, on August 20th, members of the Casamonica family, a Roman clan accused of extortion and loan-sharking in the capital, staged a blatant display of their wealth and sense of impunity. For the funeral of one of their elders—a vast affair—a band played the theme music from “The Godfather” (a gangster movie) and dropped rose petals on a horse-drawn hearse from a helicopter.
Unsurprisingly, the event spurred keen media interest in the Casamonicas—little of it wanted. A television camera team that tried to film houses belonging to suspected clan associates was assaulted, while a comedian who recorded a satirical song about the funeral received death threats on social media.
Against this background the central government decided to give broad new powers to the prefect, the interior ministry’s representative in the capital, Franco Gabrielli. Humiliatingly for local officials, Mr Gabrielli now has the authority to intervene in areas of municipal authority vulnerable to penetration by organised crime, including rubbish collection, park management and housing.
The move by the central government also reflects growing doubts over the abilities of Rome’s inexperienced mayor, Ignazio Marino. The city is in visible disarray. Rubbish bins are overflowing, while parks often remain untended and roads potholed (though not all, or even most, of its woes can be blamed on the mayor).
Mr Marino’s cash-strapped administration now faces the additional challenge of having to deal with millions of Catholic pilgrims after Pope Francis declared a Jubilee year, starting in December.

Rome will need all the help it can get. Whether putting it under the control of two separate officials with overlapping responsibilities is the best way of providing it remains to be seen. But as a former mayor, Francesco Rutelli, noted, it is not unprecedented. Republican Rome was governed by two consuls. And it worked. Two thousand years ago.