Jan. 25 - Italy is fighting one of its darkest problems as it heads towards February elections - the hold of the mafia over society and business. With banks tightening credit, organised crime has poured dirty money into the legitimate economy where it is undermining future growth. Hayley Platt reports
Gioia Tauro is one of Europe's biggest ports. It's three kilometres long and its containers occupy 38 square kilometres of land. Naples is also a gateway to Africa and the Middle East which is why the mafia loves to use it. They smuggle drugs and illegal goods through the port and for them tough economic times is good news. With banks less willing to lend some legitimate businesses are borrowing the mafia's drug profits - despite extortionate rates - to stay afloat. Italy's chief of finance police says it's hard to stop their criminal operations in such a vast port. (SOUNDBITE) (Italian) COLONEL CLAUDIO PETROZZIELLO, COMMANDER OF FINANCE POLICE IN THE REGGIO CALABRIA PROVINCE, SAYING: "The drug smugglers identify the ships that are en route to the port and use their containers as 'Trojan horses', placing bags of cocaine on board for mafia members to retrieve." That's not the only way dirty money contaminates the legitimate economy. The 'Ndrangheta from Calabria and the Camorra from Naples are two of Italy's most powerful crime gangs. They make billions of euros a year from drug smuggling. And 'Ndrangheta even made enough to invest in a soccer club. It funded a semi-professional team at Rosarno until 2010 when a court took control of the club. A year later the entire team was confiscated from the mob. And its star player and the son of an ex-club president was later sent to jail. Attempts to kick the mafia out of soccer in southern Italy are now being made. In Quatro, north of Naples, they have a "Soccer Team for Legality" Luigi Cuomo is a member of an anti-mafia group there. (SOUNDBITE) (Italian) LUIGI CUOMO, MEMBER OF AN ANTI-MAFIA GROUP, SAYING: "We want to be an example, demonstrate that you can manage a team and lead it to win without giving in to criminal organizations." With an election looming in a few weeks the mafia issue is becoming a key one. Their criminal ways are undermining the country's attempt to stimulate growth - something Italy's economy badly needs.