(Kai Littmann) – Italy is the arrival point for natural gas from Azerbaijan (TAP, Trans Adriatic Pipeline) and Africa (TMP, Trans Mediterranean Pipeline). The TAP arrives in Europe in Puglia in San Foca, the TMP in Sicily. From there, the gas is transported through a network of pipelines all over Italy, with numerous branches to supply the Italian cities with gas and also transport the gas northwards and to other European countries. At a time when Europe wants and needs to become independent of Russian gas, this infrastructure is of strategic importance for the supply of natural gas to Europe. The European Union is co-financing these projects, which are included in the list of 195 essential energy infrastructure projects, the so-called “projects of common interest”. Worth billions of euros (TAP 6 billion euros), these dynamic projects, which are constantly being expanded, have attracted the attention of organised crime in Italy, whose strategy is increasingly to appropriate public contracts, thanks to the compliance of politicians and a complacent judicial system.
The construction of such gas pipelines requires exceptional know-how and expertise. Gas pipelines cross the whole of Italy, run through rough terrain, require special machinery and are thus one of the most complicated construction sites. The general contractors commissioned to build these huge structures have called in specialist firms, and this is where our case comes in. Because these specialised companies were not paid in full for their work, some of the money meant for them was lost in the twists and turns of corruption and in the coffers of organised crime.
According to the Anti-Mafia Law (Legge 55/1990), the partners of the European Commission should have paid the invoices of the executing companies instead of the general contractor. However, this was not the case. On the contrary – the companies that had logically filed suit to be paid were crushed by the judicial machinery, the files were passed from one court to another where corrupt judges “lost” them, discontinued them and “forgot” about them. The result: hundreds of jobs were lost, numerous businesses in civil engineering and construction were destroyed, economic and human dramas ensued. And all this with the acquiescence of the politicians, who had been informed very early about the financial abuses in the context of these projects.
So that organised crime could get its “share” of the billions invested in these projects, specialised companies and correct contractors who refused to pay the mafia structures were harmed and destroyed, and “il sistema”, the conglomerate of organised crime, politics and the judicial system, unleashed all its power. The mechanisms of this system are presented in concrete terms in the article on the entrepreneur Rosario Leo later in this series.
However, being a project co-financed by the European Union, there should have been controls, the European Union should have reacted to the numerous legal cases challenging “il sistema”. But obviously everyone preferred to look the other way and this inexplicable inaction has led not only to the loss of numerous jobs, but also to the financing of organised crime in Italy, with the connivance of all those involved in “il sistema”.
In the face of “il sistema”, most of the entrepreneurs involved eventually threw in the towel. But not all. Some of the affected entrepreneurs have been fighting for justice for almost three decades, but they are running up against a wall built by the judiciary, corrupt politicians and companies linked to organised crime.
The only ones who can stop this funding of organised crime are in Brussels. It is true that normally it is institutions in the countries concerned that control the proper use of EU money invested in this way. However, if it is known that organised crime is managing to get its hands on some of these funds, strict controls should be put in place or this funding should be stopped by putting other actors in charge of these projects.
Yes, these are important projects for Europe, but it is up to the EU institutions to control them in such a way that organised crime does not get its hands on these European funds. Considering that the next construction phase is planned for 2024, this might be a good time to wake up in Brussels and put an end to these machinations.
Already published in this series: