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Italy's Mafia troubles creep north

The Mafia has long been a part of life in southern Italy, while the north remained mostly untainted. Organized crime has now solidified its presence in prosperous northern Italy.

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The Mafia used to be strictly a business of Italy’s south, but today organized crime has reached the north – Italy’s economic engine –  and is thriving, investing its illegally-made millions there.

But unlike in the south, where the Mafia has a thorough and sometimes violent control over society, its influence in northern regions is mainly economic and often hidden.

“When they show up here, they look clean,” says Enrico Bini, the president of the town of Reggio Emilia’s Chamber of Commerce and one of the first and most outspoken public critics of organized crime in Emilia-Romagna. “It’s tricky. Companies sometimes don’t know whom they are making deals with.”

Emilia-Romagna, the affluent, left-leaning region with Bologna as its capital, is traditionally celebrated as a model of economic development, social integration, and civic engagement. All this makes it hard for residents to imagine, let alone accept, that Emilia-Romagna is one of the latest frontiers in the Mafia’s infiltration of the north – making it easier for the Mafia to infiltrate unnoticed.

“There was a defensive ideology around here,” says journalist Sara Di Antonio, who wrote a book about the Mafia’s presence in the north. “People believed that our community, for cultural and historic reasons, had to be healthy.”

Public officials and politicians were no exception. “They said that everything was under control, although there were many signs that things weren’t quite right,” Ms. Di Antonio says.

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