Geopolitics

Orphans Of The Mob: When A Southern Italian Town 'Loses' Its Boss, All Bets Are Off

Michele Zagaria's arrest was hailed by Italian law enforcement as a key victory in the war against the Camorra crime syndicate in and around the southern city of Naples. But in the small town where Zagaria had been sheltered, his arrest means les

Michele Zagaria spent 15 years on the lam.
Michele Zagaria spent 15 years on the lam.
Guido Ruotolo

CASAPESENNA - Since last week's capture of Michele Zagaria, a top boss of Italy's Camorra mafia clan of Calesi, his small hometown has been a place of mourning.

In Casapesenna, the arrest of a notorious mobster -- sentenced in absentia to multiple life sentences for murder, extortion, robbery and mafia association with the mafia – brought no celebrations, no joy. On the contrary, the inhabitants of this town outside of Naples looked as if they were attending the funeral of a dear friend or family member. Indeed, they were mourning their benefactor.

Welcome to Gomorrah, as best-selling author Roberto Saviano re-named the area dominated by the Camorra criminal syndicate in the Italian southern region of Campania.

In Casapesenna, a girl was not ashamed to cry aloud all her sorrow in front of the cameras. "And now, who will give us a job? Who will give us bread?" A storekeeper looked distressed too. "And now, the others who will come next, will they force us to pay the extortion racket?"

Gomorrah seems unbeatable, and always ready to rise again. Still, we should't be surprised. The day before the capture of Zagaria, who had been on the run for over 16 years, Italian police had arrested 55 people connected to the mob, including politicians, local administrators, and bank managers. During the investigation that led to these arrests, witnesses admitted to voting for some candidates because they guaranteed work and money.

The capture of Michele Zagaria has a real effect on people's lives. "Now the issue are the orphans and the heirs of the Casalesi," says Guido Longo, police commissioner of the city of Caserta, whose investigations led to the capture of Casalesi boss Francesco Schiavone, nicknamed Sandokan, in 1998. "There is an army of faithful, members, supporters, sympathizers, politicians, and businessmen. It is the Casalesi's social base."

Deputy District Attorney of the Anti Mafia Directorate, Federico Cafiero de Raho, cautions against considering the clan defeated with Zagaria's arrest. "Defeated? Let's slow down. It still is basically intact, despite the arrests and the confiscations. The Casalesi's entrepreneurial structure still exists. They are still in the concrete business, in the public works tenders, in national companies, in bufala mozzerella factories," Cafiero de Raho says.

Follow the money

"Until we manage to dry up their wealth, their assets, and their companies, the Casalesi will always be able to go on as usual. They can survive even to the arrests. Indeed, the enemy is strong," he says.

Still, though the war continues, authorities were able to enjoy, however briefly, an important battle victory. Caserta police spent the entire day after Zagaria's arrest, in the building in via Mascagni, in Casapesenna, under which the boss's bunker was hidden. The owners of the house, Vincenzo Inquieto and his wife, were arrested for allegedly helping the boss hide.

In Zagaria's bunker, police discovered, among many other surprises, two televisions and a 400-meter cable connected to the main square and the closed-circuit camera system of Casapesenna.

Literally, the boss kept his eye over all the village, says Alessandro Tocco, police chief at Casal di Principe, another small town in the crime-ridden zone. "Who is the technician who hooked up this illegal connection?," asks Tocco. "Is he an employee of the company who installed the entire CCTV system in Casapesenna?"

In the town, there are indeed a surprising number of cameras. There is one in each road and street, to protect the villas and houses of Gomorrah. Tocco says that after the arrest of the Casalesi boss Antonio Iovine, in November 2010, police opened an investigation on the illegal buildings and CCTV in the towns dominated by the clan: Casapesenna, Casal di Principe, San Cipriano d'Aversa, and Villa Literno.

"We arrived at one hundred. But surely the illegal villas are in the thousands," Tocco says. "And the cameras which protect the inhabitants are illegal. They should not film the people passing by on the public street."

In Gomorrah, there are illegal bunkers, illegal apartments, even illegal walls. Indeed, an army of excavators should knock down the majority of the houses of these towns. And yet, to do it, first the majority of the local administrators would need to be fired. They day before the capture of Zagaria, the arrests of those 55 people was just a start.

Chief of Italian Police Antonio Manganelli puts it this way: "In the fight against mafia, there are few players and many spectators." But the real issue is the many of these spectators support the wrong team. Manganelli insists that everyone has to play his or her part, and that police must clean up the local administrations.

But here there is a feudal connection between administrators and electors. The former are dominated by Gomorrah, the latter are dominated both by Gomorrah and by the administrators.

Member of Parliament Nicola Cosentino, who until 2010 was undersecretary of the Ministry of Economy in Silvio Berlusconi's government, is accused of being the "national political guarantor for the Casalesi." In 2009, the Italian Parliament rejected a request for Cosentino's arrest from the magistrates of the anti-mafia directorate. Now, the lower house has to decide on a new request for his arrest for alleged connections with the mafia. What will happen next? Maybe nothing. "The mob can do without Cosentino," says Cafiero de Raho. "They will simply pick another politician able to represent them."

Read the original article in Italian

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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