Italy’s ambitious organized crime syndicates are still killing people and trafficking drugs and weapons, but their latest bet is eco-friendly businesses.
The cash-heavy groups are tapping into corporate cost-cutting in Europe’s crisis-torn economy, including the often exorbitant expenses required to properly dispose of waste, according to a recent report by European law enforcement agency Europol. The Italian mafia is famous for its forays into waste management, but thanks to shrinking budgets and tightening environmental regulations in Europe, illegal dumping and waste trafficking are booming under the guise of eco-friendly trash disposal. They’re high-return low-risk endeavors that are rarely prosecuted, Europol says.
The Italian mafia is exploiting other green markets, too. In 2010, Italian authorities seized $1.9 billion US from Vito Nicastri, known as Sicily’s “Lord of the Wind,” and his alleged mafia associates, saying they illegally profited from wind farms and other government-subsidized alternative energy companies. Since then, Italian officials have been investigating so many suspected “clean energy” rackets that experts fear the related tax evasion and corruption is undermining Italy’s economy.
Similar illicit industries are cropping up in Scotland, where illegal landfills are booming thanks to tax hikes on trash. One unlicensed trash pit can fit enough waste for a company to avoid 1 million euros in taxes a month. Meanwhile, Australian authorities have been on the lookout for criminal exploitation of carbon tax initiatives.
Europol stressed that these businesses are a “very real threat” to the European Union. Crime syndicates tend to squeeze out legitimate businesses by operating initially at a loss to corner the market. Also, Europol fears the groups will use their green acquisitions to launder illicit proceeds from other criminal enterprises like drug trafficking, counterfeiting of products and extortion. That would allow the groups to move further into the mainstream financial system, giving them more room to grow, and more avenues to evade the law.
This article originally appeared on Quartz.