Earlier this month, there was a funeral procession in the Sicilian town of Messina, in defiance of a nationwide lockdown in Italy.
It was no ordinary procession. The couple of dozen people walking behind the hearse were paying their respects to a 70-year-old scion of one of the most notorious Mafia famiglie.
Claudio Fava, president of the regional anti-Mafia committee, described it as a “real scandal, an insult to those who lost their relatives in the pandemic.”
Funerals have been banned in Italy since early March as part of a broader set of restrictions aimed at curbing the Covid-19 outbreak that has killed nearly 23,000 people as of Friday.
That the procession took place at all speaks to the power and the impunity wielded by the Mafia in parts of Italy.
Senior anti-mafia officials and researchers have told CNN that Mafia clans are already taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic, especially in southern Italy.
They are providing everyday necessities in poor neighborhoods, offering credit to businesses on the verge of bankruptcy and planning to siphon off a chunk of the billions of euros being lined up in stimulus funds.
The most powerful branch of the Mafia the ‘Ndrangheta, based in Calabria is thought to control 80% of the European cocaine market. Even as the pandemic made distribution more difficult, it took advantage of the lockdown.
Journalist Roberto Saviano author of “Gomorrah: Italy’s other Mafia,” an expose of the Camorra mafia in Naples told CNN that “the traffickers took advantage of the [lack of] oversight of law enforcement in the ports, in the airports.”
“Who was checking any more?” he asked.