In this edition of the The Global Conversation, euronews’ Isabelle Kumar speaks to Mr Saviano at the Italissimo festival in Paris.
The anti-mafia journalist explains why he believes the UK is the most corrupt country on earth and why politicians across Europe are not prepared to tackle money laundering and organised crime.
You shot to fame with your book Gomorrah ten years ago. I imagine ten years in the world of the Mafia is a very long time, can you give me some of the main ways the Camorra group has changed?
The greatest change in the Camorra is related to the generations. The heads today are delegating to very young people who control the territory.
It’s as if they are closed off in a sort of aristocratic isolation. They give power to kids who are 15 to 20 years-old, they are not baby gangs – they are real mafiosi, with rules, incredible military violence, wages and they’re managing the drug-trafficking.
The major revolution is essentially in terms of their age, and also because 20 year-olds are willing to die more easily.
The judiciary has described these groups as ‘urban terrorists’ do they have any links, any resemblance, to the jihadis who have joined groups like the Islamic State (IS)?
No, there are no structural links, it is not that they speak with Jihadi groups, but there are cultural links. Today, a young Neapolitan, Mexican or South African is very similar to those in North Africa who decide to join IS.
They certainly have one thing in common – only those who are prepared to die trying to get rich, or like jihadists to leave a mark, make a difference.
Today, according to the Mafia, you don’t stand out by living differently but by dying differently.
For example, the kids I have studied in my country lately, they write on Facebook that they will never reach 25 years of age, not even 20. A 30 year-old is considered a failure – someone who has not made it in life.
You describe this in your new book ‘Paranza dei Bambini’, this also seems to be fuelled by a sense of hopelessness, these youths don’t really have opportunities, there is massive urban decay in these centres, in Naples particularly – is Naples symbolic of so many other cities around the world for you?
Yes, absolutely. Mexico city, Lagos, Rio de Janeiro, the suburbs of Paris and Barcelona – these are all a symbol of this story.
Naples and Italy are merely capable of narrating this story and voicing what is happening. Here in France, I can see the entire debate is only about the effects and they don’t look at the causes. The suburbs of Paris are full of illegal money and yet they only talk about the effects, of the dealer or the immigrant, but this dealer and immigrant have money and cocaine that are given to them by the French Mafia – the Mafia from Marseilles and Corsica.
Money laundering is done by the French financial system – all this money ends up in Luxembourg.
The difference between us in Naples and the rest of Europe is that we talk about it. The rest of Europe has a hard time admitting to these stories.
In Europe if we focus there, is there a certain amount of hypocrisy, you say these issues are talked about in Italy but European leaders are not talking about it. Are they willfully choosing not to?
Absolutely. But it’s more than a choice, there is also an element of ignorance.
The most extraordinary thing in the world is to listen to the political debates in France – there is not one presidential candidate who knows about these phenomena.
Those who talk about immigration, don’t actually ask where the money that is going to the criminal suburbs comes from, where the cocaine comes from, how money laundering functions in Paris, who is buying apartments?
The candidates don’t even know, only a part of the police service is aware of it, as well as a few specialised journalists and the rest of the country is looking elsewhere.
If they are turning a blind eye is it because there is a certain need for this illegal money in the economy? You have described the amount of illegal money that is flowing through the economy, the money that is laundered, it’s absolutely astronomical – so at a time of economic stagnation, withdrawing that money could bring about a collapse these leaders might not desire?
Yes, of course. One of the reasons is, if you put in place rules against money laundering you will also be blocking money, not only from drug-trafficking but also from the Middle East, money from tax evasion.
If you introduce legislation to make it Mafia proof – you will close the system to other capital that is needed in the economy.
From this perspective Europe has given up trying to control its capital – even clean money. Brexit is one of the examples of this – it’s fed off a desire to make Great Britain an off-shore haven.
If the UK is to become an offshore haven, or has been previously, how do you see Brexit playing into that? How do you see the future of the United Kingdom when it comes to this illegal money laundering, this illegal centre of activity?
Transparency groups have shown this with irrefutable data.
The UK is already the most, without doubt, the most corrupt country in the world, not in terms of politics or police, but in terms of money laundering.
No English person feels that they are in the most corrupt country in the world because they they cannot pay off policeman or easily corrupt politicians, but they don’t know that their financial system is totally corrupt.
What do I mean by corruption? I mean that there is no control of the flow of money – not necessarily into London, but into Gibraltar, Malta and Jersey – these are all the doors through which Great Britain brings money in without any control.
Panama used to be the money laundering capital – now it’s London. Panama got its revenge with the Panama Papers, they clearly released names to take revenge against London.
A new report from Europol shows how these international groups, these mafia groups, have fully embraced technology and that is allowing them to dig in deeper and hide more from authorities, is it going to become practically impossible to trace and catch these groups?
If there were real laws against money laundering, it would be easy.
Today it is much easier to track money than before because we are no longer dealing in banks notes, we have electronic transactions that leave traces on the web.
The problem is that there are plenty of territories to make these transactions and make them disappear.
Each European state has its own coffers – Spain has Andorra, Germany has Liechtenstein, France has Luxembourg and everyone has Switzerland. It is really easy to hide money in Europe.
In the past, banks were frightened to take Mafia money – that was in the 80s, 90s – now they search out Mafia money, because they lack cash flow and because the economic crisis has put the banking system on its knees.
So, the banks defence systems have been completely lowered and the Mafia can enter. It is a relatively new phenomenon. The Mafia used to have trouble laundering money in European banks, they used offshore banks in South America and Asia but now they have totally penetrated the legal economy.
These are powerful accusations that you are making. Are you receiving any backlash politically from what you are saying or are you just being ignored?
I get comments every day. I am never welcome in the countries I visit because I am always told ‘this is an Italian problem, talk about your own country’.
I’m accused of exaggerating, of inventing or repeating what is already known.
Everything that we have talked about today is not hidden – it’s simply not observed – that’s the paradox. These days, more than ever, all the attention is focused on terrorism so Mafia money and money laundering are absolutely free to flow where they want.
Reports show that the European criminal world is exploiting the refugee crisis and apparently people smuggling is becoming one of the most profitable crimes at the moment, is that what you are seeing?
All the boats that are crossing the Mediterranean are managed by the cartels – but not by the Italian cartels like everyone thinks. The Mafia doesn’t have a say in this.
They are Turkish, Libyan and Lebanese groups that have always invested in people smuggling and Europe has not the faintest idea of this dynamic.
The cartels that managed the arrivals of the Syrians in Europe are all Turkish mafia and it’s the same Mafia that manages heroin from Afghanistan.
IS, the Caliphate, for example, has three primary sources of profit, all from criminal activity: racketeering, petrol smuggling and art smuggling. The fourth is drugs – Captagon which is a meta-amphetamine or marijuana that IS cultivates in Albania.
We choose not to have a deeper understanding of the situation and retain a superficial reading of it – that there’s a clash of civilisations, when in fact we are dealing with a clash between criminal groups.
Your pursuit of your work has put your own life at risk – you seem to be willing to die for your work. Is there any going back for you, or is this going to remain an obsession of your life, where you give up the things people have at your age – family, home, friends?
Yes, it’s possible. What I should be doing, I’m not doing. I should disappear. I should stop doing interviews, writing books, stop doing my job.
But two things are stopping me – one is ambition – the ability that my words still have an impact on reality.
Then there is the question of vengeance, of revenge, to carry on doing this even though the Mafia make my life impossible.
I wouldn’t suggest my decisions to anyone else because I could have done this more cautiously. I wouldn’t do it again like this. I would do it with more care, more discipline. Instead I realise I went too fast and I crashed into a wall.
When you wrote Gomorrah you were very much on the ground, you were speaking to people, you were experiencing what was happening. Now your work has had to change quite drastically, now you can no longer do that. As an author how do you see yourself evolving?
When I was young I had a hard time meeting magistrates or having access to tapped conversations, now they are sent directly to me. Now, everyone wants me to talk about the investigations – it’s incredible how everything changes.
For example, I could not have travelled on a train as free man, but recently I was on an Italian train with my bodyguard. It made a real impression on me, it was 10 years since I had taken a train. Freedom is magical and, like everything, you appreciate it when you have lost it. It’s like the people you love, like oxygen. It’s the same with freedom – when I lost it, damn it, I understood what freedom was.
I understood how the sick and imprisoned people feel – those who are not free to walk or make choices – every time I can enjoy a moment of freedom, it’s golden.