Italy makes huge haul of mafia assets in green energy case

ROME (REUTERS) - Italy made its biggest confiscation of mafia assets in history on Wednesday, including dozens of alternative energy companies worth a total of 1.3 billion euros (S$2.06 billion), police said.

A court in Trapani on the island of Sicily ordered the definitive confiscation of assets first seized in 2010 from Vito Nicastri, a 57-year-old businessman, who was deemed a front man for the Sicilian mafia, known as Cosa Nostra.

Police and magistrates say Nicastri, once dubbed the "Lord of the Wind" because of his vast wind farm holdings, invested money made from extortion, drug sales and other illicit activities for Matteo Messina Denaro, believed to be Cosa Nostra's boss of bosses.

"Matteo Messina Denaro is behind many businessmen considered above suspicion who manage and take care of the assets of the real boss of Cosa Nostra," Mr Ivan Lo Bello, vice chairman of business lobby Confindustria, commented on Twitter.

"To defeat the mafia, the fight against money laundering is fundamental," Mr Lo Bello said.

Most of the seized assets were located in Sicily, home of the Cosa Nostra, and in southern Calabria, home of its sister crime organisation, the 'Ndrangheta.

The haul included 43 companies, 98 properties and even cars and boats, police said.

Messina Denaro, 50, was once known as the "Playboy Boss" because he liked fast cars, women and gold watches. He has been on the run since 1993.

Thanks to his contacts in the criminal underworld, Nicastri went from being an electrician to one of Italy's biggest investors in alternative energy, a sector that enjoyed huge public incentives until last year.

Taken together, Italy's main crime groups - the Cosa Nostra,'Ndrangheta, and the Camorra from the southern city of Naples - would have an annual turnover of 116 billion euros, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

That is more than the annual sales of Italy's biggest company, oil giant Eni.

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