European countries should learn from Italy and establish penal codes “fit for the mafia” to get to grips with people-trafficking organizations responsible for enslaving nearly 1 million people on the continent, according to a report by the European Parliament.
The report by the parliament’s committee on organized crime, corruption and money-laundering, which will be put to the vote tomorrow, paints a devastating picture of slavery across Europe, with about 880,000 people in forced labor in the 28 EU member states, 270,000 of whom are victims of sexual exploitation. Criminal gangs are estimated to earn 25 billion euros (US$34.2 billion) a year through trafficking.
One of the authors, Slovenian Member of European Parliament Tanja Fajon, said the figures showed “the mafia is no longer Italian, it’s everywhere in Europe. We are dealing with an octopus-like European mafia that is feeding off the current crisis and has its tentacles wrapped around member states’ assets.”
The European Parliament urges member states to establish witness protection programs for insiders who collaborate with investigators and to reuse assets seized from criminals for social purposes — all flagship measures of Italy’s fight against the mafia.
Anti-slavery campaigners welcomed the main proposals.
“Italy’s approach to modern-day slavery is pretty advanced. They have learned that the best way to hurt criminal gangs is to take away their assets, and they are very good at helping the victims too,” said Anthony Steen, a former British Conservative party member of parliament who is chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation.
A recent decision by a court in L’Aquila is considered a precedent for the rest of Europe: 17 victims of trafficking were each awarded 50,000 euros using assets confiscated from the perpetrators.
Laws allowing the seizure of assets including property, land or businesses are among a series of measures introduced in Italy during the 1980s and 1990s to clamp down on the activities of the mafia.
Shaken by several high-profile assassinations, Italy first made active membership in the mafia a crime in and of itself — “mafia association” was introduced into the penal code in 1982 after the killing of the Palermo prefect Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa.
Ten years later, the country passed a law to grant investigators new powers of extended confiscation of assets.
Other crucial features of the Italian legislative armory include the use of pentiti — criminal insiders turned state witnesses who can expect leniency in return for information about their organization and superiors — and telephone interception.
However, observers say the weakening of the Sicilian Mafia was to the detriment of investigations into the ‘Ndrangheta and Camorra, which have emerged as deadly criminal organizations.
Praise for Italy’s anti-mafia strategy should be seen in that context, said Federico Varese, professor of criminology at the University of Oxford.
“Italy has been very effective and innovative in its use of judicial tools, but we cannot say the fight against the mafia has been won,” he said.
The authors of the European Parliament’s report say that greater European coordination is required to stand up to criminal gangs who are often more at ease with cross-cultural cooperation than national law-enforcers.
“If the member states are not brave enough to share police and judicial powers, then we will never manage to resolve this crisis, but deepen it,” said Fajon, a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.
The launch of a pan-European prosecution body was proposed by the so-called “wise men’s committee” of EU experts in 1999, as a measure to counter the fraud of EU funds, and has been opposed by a series of British governments.
The proposal’s re-emergence as part of the anti-slavery initiative is likely to clash with the British government’s drive to repatriate powers from the EU.