Series (1) – European money for the Mafia?

Today: ENI - SNAM - Bonatti and the others - Who are they and what role do they play in the gas pipeline construction scandal in Italy?

The ENI plant in Taranto, south of Italy. Foto: Eurojournalist(e) /CC-BY 2.0

(Kai Littmann) – In this article, we present the main players in this scandal that has been going on for almost three decades. The aforementioned companies, with the help of the Italian judiciary and politicians, form what authors and journalists call “il sistema”. Within the framework of this logically informal structure, large energy infrastructure projects were and are carried out. These infrastructures are very important for the energy supply of many European countries. This justifies the investment of billions of euros of European taxpayers’ money, but it is unfortunate that part of this investment has ended up in the coffers of organised crime in Italy. The aim of this series is to understand what needs to be done to prevent this from happening again, for example in the next phase of construction, scheduled for 2024.

Who is ENI? – ENI was founded in 1953 and privatised in 1984. The Italian state holds around 32% of the capital, which gives it operational control of this mega-company. With more than 32,000 employees and operations in 62 countries, ENI is the second largest energy group in Europe (after TOTAL) and the seventh largest in the world. ENI holds stakes in other gas companies in various European countries (and also outside Europe), making it an indispensable player in the energy market. As a partner of the European Union, ENI organises numerous projects in Italy and elsewhere. In the field of gas pipelines, which we are interested in for this series, ENI is at the head of a huge working structure and is responsible for the proper running of the projects and the management of the European funds provided. Led by its president Giuseppe Zafarana and general manager Claudio Descalzi, ENI had a turnover of €132.512 billion in 2022, which places it 111th in the world’s 500 largest companies.

Who is SNAM? – SNAM, founded in 1941, is the largest natural gas transport company in Italy and consequently, one of the main players in this dossier. Through its branches and partners, SNAM is involved in the construction of gas pipelines, the transport and storage of natural gas in Italy. The “Cassa Depositi e Prestiti” (state-owned bank) holds 31.35% of the shares (with numerous international investment funds in the capital). SNAM has been entrusted by ENI with the implementation of numerous projects for the construction of gas pipelines in Italy. SNAM has acquired gas pipelines and exploitation rights through various financial operations. We will not detail these operations in this series (although they are well documented). For its part, SNAM commissioned and still commissions general contractors for these infrastructure projects, which were and are supervised by its own branches. In 2014, one of the branches, Italgas, was placed under provisional administration because the mafia had infiltrated this company. With a turnover of 3.52 billion euros (2022), SNAM is one of the important structures in the Italian gas market.

Who is Bonatti? – Bonatti was one of the general contractors commissioned to work on the construction of the gas pipelines in Italy. At the time of the events that interest us in this series, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, around 70% of Bonatti’s shares belonged to Callisto Tanzi, the founder and president of the “Parmalat” group, a huge agri-food company at the centre of the “Parmalat scandal”. 14 billion euros had “disappeared” from the accounts of the company, which used to sponsor Real Madrid and owner of Parma Calcio and around 100 smaller companies. Sentenced to 18 years in prison, a sentence upheld by the Court of Cassation, for, among other things, “forming a criminal organisation”, Callisto Tanzi died in 2022. The links between Bonatti and organised crime have been documented in numerous books and publications in the press. Bonatti’s role is so important because the company only partially paid its subcontractors who carried out the actual work, which led to the loss of many jobs and the bankruptcy of numerous construction companies. At this point, the “anti-mafia law” (Legge 55/1990) should have taken effect, which stipulates that in such a situation, the higher principals, in this case SNAM and ENI, should have stepped in for Bonatti and paid the defrauded subcontractors, but this never happened. The many court cases were so distorted by the Italian judiciary and politics, that the defrauded subcontractors did not receive any judgements from the highest court, the Court of Cassation, so that their way to the European Court of Human Rights remained blocked. You can read how this was accomplished in the article in this series dedicated to the roles of the judiciary and the Supreme Judicial Council. After the scandals surrounding the Bonatti company, it was finally removed from “il sistema”, but this did not stop this system from continuing to function.

This information is relatively superficial, because for decades, all these companies have been the subject of financial operations, purchases and sales, in a complexity that makes it practically impossible to understand. For this series, however, it is important to understand the chain “European money – ENI – SNAM – Bonatti (and / or other general companies)”, because in this chain, the “anti-mafia law” should have protected the construction companies destroyed in these projects. Instead, the most serious failures of the Italian judicial system, corruption of judges and political leaders at the highest levels occurred as a result. During our investigation, we came across organised crime everywhere, which profited from the money of the gas pipeline projects. Fortunately, experts, journalists and some courageous judges and prosecutors have pointed out and documented the links between this company and mafia-like organisations, which means we no longer have to provide this evidence on our end.

We asked the European Commission why the many court cases brought by the aggrieved construction companies had no impact on the award of new projects to ENI, which has been awarded contracts worth billions of euros for all extensions of the gas network in Italy since the 1990s. You can read the European Commission’s responses in one of the articles in this series.

For those who missed the beginning of this series, including media in other countries who have registered their interest in this dossier, we put at the end of each article the links to the articles that have already appeared.

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