The German perspective 12 years after the Duisburg massacre


Exactly 12 years ago, on 15th August 2007, the Duisburg massacre shook Germany and turned the spotlight on the ‘ndrangheta, a criminal organization which, until then, had been particularly silent outside its own territories of origin.

On the night of August 15, 2007, six men between the ages of 16 and 39 lost their lives, all originating in the province of Reggio Calabria, except for Tommaso Venturi, originally from Corigliano Calabro, who was turning 18 years old on that day. The victims were hit by two killers at the exit of the Italian restaurant ”Da Bruno”, where they had spent the evening to celebrate the birthday of the friend. The renowned restaurant in the town in North Rhine-Westphalia was already known to the Italian and German police as a place of money laundering. The killers, to ensure the success of the ambush, cooled each of their victims with a final blow to the head. The burnt image of St. Michael the Archangel was found in the clothes of the celebrant, a sign of a possible affiliation to the clan celebrated just that evening.

The Duisburg massacre, also known as the Ferragosto massacre, is the last episode of the bloody feud of San Luca, which began in 1991 and which saw the Nirta-Strangio oppose the Pelle-Vottari-Romeo. The feud, which apparently began for futile reasons, has seen a series of settlements of accounts, often perpetrated in days significant from the symbolic and religious point of view. The aim of hitting one’s enemies during the festivities is to make the pain of the victim’s relatives even deeper, so that one day of celebration becomes a day of mourning forever.

According to this scheme, the clash between the warring factions was re-ignited by the murder of Maria Strangio, wife of the boss Giovanni Nirta, which took place in San Luca on 25 December 2006, in an ambush whose main objective was the Calabrian boss. The weapons used on that occasion came from Duisburg.

It is in this framework that the decision of the Nirta-Strangio to attack their rivals even abroad, in Germany, more than 2000 km away from San Luca (RC), is to be traced back, running the enormous risk of attracting the attention of the forces of law and order and public opinion to themselves, unexpectedly defeating the strategy of camouflage which had had been enormously successful, allowing the ‘ndrangheta to take root and reproduce its own organizational model also abroad. Behind the attack of Duisburg, however, there was not only a thirst for revenge. There was also the will to reaffirm one’s own criminal power and to obtain control of the illicit traffics in the region. Drug trafficking generated enormous profits and the region of North Rhine-Westphalia was a strategic junction, given its proximity to the border with Holland, where drug shipments from South America arrived at its ports. Over the years, the Calabrian clans have carried out a real territorial division of the German Land. The Nirta-Strangio, for example, control the Kaarst area, while the Pelle-Vottari-Romeo extend their dominion over the Duisburg area. In this case, the Rhine River separates the respective areas of influence of the rival clans.

Germany is the European country where the ‘ndrangheta has managed to penetrate more effectively, despite the apparent cultural incompatibility. The massacre of Ferragosto showed all the ease of action and confidence of the criminal organization of Calabrian origin that is, one step at a time, colonizing the German territory. This episode, however, has revealed to the whole world the ferocious and criminal nature of the ‘ndrangheta. The excessive exposure has undoubtedly had negative effects for the organization, at least in the immediate future.

The German public opinion, in fact, has finally realized its existence. The Italian and German investigative authorities have developed a fruitful relationship of collaboration which has led, in the period following the massacre, to the capture and arrest of numerous affiliates involved in the feud of San Luca.

On the one hand, there were already several signs that indicated a strong penetration of the ‘ndrangheta in Germany. On the other hand, however, they were long underestimated and only the shock caused by the Duisburg massacre opened the eyes of public opinion and institutions. However, the initial astonishment soon made room for ‘removal’ by German society. The image of Duisburg – and of the whole of Germany – could not be polluted by the presence of the mafia. The negative image had to be erased and the episode forgotten. Once the trial for the facts of Duisburg was transferred to Italy, for Germany the case was to be considered closed. The matter was considered a business between Calabrians, a problem of Italy. This removal greatly facilitated the ‘ndrangheta, who returned to silence and became peaceful internally. Too much exposure had been a mistake and it was now necessary to give priority to business rather than internal disputes. What is striking about the ‘ndrangheta and which can also be seen by analysing the facts of Duisburg is its dual nature: on the one hand, it is a modern organisation, it takes advantage of the opportunities offered by globalization and is oriented towards profit; on the other hand, it maintains its own ancestral customs, its ties with the motherland and its rituals.

In addition to the removal by society, the ‘ndrangheta can also exploit to its own advantage the shortcomings of the German legislation, which is very weak in terms of the fight against the mafias. In Germany, for example, there is no crime of mafia association, as provided for within the Italian legal system (416 bis). The German legislation, in fact, specifies only the criminal association, through Article 129 of the Criminal Code. There is also a lack of legislation on the seizure and confiscation of property. Following the Second World War, in stark contrast to the totalitarian regime of the past, Germany adopted legislation that was strongly geared to protecting the individual. For this reason, everything that concerns the confiscation of personal property and property is very difficult to implement. German law, while in some cases providing for the possibility of seizure and confiscation of property, does not allow this to happen in a preventive manner and provides that the burden of proof is on the prosecution. All this represents an enormous limitation in the fight against the mafias. If there were greater awareness of the seriousness of the risk faced by society, these obstacles could be overcome.

The ‘ndrangheta is aware of these limits, knows that it is unlikely that Germany will adopt more effective measures in matters of confiscation of goods and therefore transforms the country into one of the main centers in which to launder the proceeds of illicit trafficking.

It is also difficult to talk about the mafia in Germany. Journalists often find themselves fighting against legislation which, in view of the extreme protection of the individual mentioned above, does not allow them to write freely about the subject. Journalists are sometimes silenced through censorship. This is the case, for example, of Petra Reski, a German investigative journalist who, after having received several complaints, has been blackened by the authorities with her book “Santa Mafia” (original title: Mafia. Von Paten, Pizzerien und falschen Priestern). Given the absence of the crime of mafia association in Germany, it is not possible to attribute links with the mafia to persons who have not already been convicted in Italy for 416 bis. There is also the right to social rehabilitation, so you cannot appoint in full (name and surname) convicted persons who have already served their sentence. Their history can be told, but people can only be named using abbreviations. The mafia in Germany can therefore make use of the lawsuit, which is much more convenient and less risky than threats and intimidation, with ample chance of success. To be the victim of these dynamics was also a documentary broadcast by the television station MDR, which focused on the economic activities of ‘ndrangheta in Erfurt, a town in Turinga that represents a real Eden for the money laundering by the criminal organization of Calabria. After having suffered a series of complaints, the documentary was also censored. Life for investigative journalists in Germany is therefore particularly difficult, there are disincentives to write about the mafia and often the publishers themselves are not willing to run the risk of publishing news on the subject to avoid running into legal trouble.

Twelve years after the events in Duisburg, the situation regarding the fight against the mafias in Germany is not the rosiest. There are many issues on which we should work and insist. First, there is a need for greater awareness of the danger of the mafia phenomenon and the risks it represents for society. Secondly, despite the presence of virtuous experiences dedicated to raising awareness on the subject, there is a need to build larger networks, which also extend to places – such as East Germany – where now there are no active realities on the anti-mafia front. There is also a need to offer more free information on the subject and of greater quality, where the fight against stereotypes of the mafias is another important issue. Finally, as we have seen in the section on this subject, it is essential to adopt legislative instruments to combat this phenomenon, which are appropriate to the scale of the phenomenon we intend to combat.

A journey “on the road”: Messina, between social anti-mafia and the desire for redemption.


Going back to Sicily always has a bittersweet taste, it gives you the feeling of being in a place where time has stopped, but underneath everything moves very quickly. This year I took part in one of the many summer camps that Libera, the organisation against Mafias, arranges throughout Italy in the assets confiscated from organized crime. I was in Messina in the seized property of Via Roosevelt, the current seat of the city committee of Addiopizzo. An atypical, wandering camp, which has tried to touch the various facets of the city, listening to the voices and testimonies of those who narrate the city every day, live it and try to make it more just.

What a better way to get to know it than by walking through its streets, admiring its beauties and listening to its history and, unavoidably, the Mafia networks that have taken place over the years. It was Nuccio Anselmo, journalist of the Gazzetta del Sud, who acted as Cicero telling us the relevant events that happened in the city giving us a fundamental overview useful to let us continue our journey in discovering the city. It was then the turn of knowing with our own hands what counter-actions are carried out in Messina thanks to the meeting with the Deputy Attorney Vito Di Giorgio who, since 1999, has been following the investigations in the city, crossroads of countless interests that are linked to a strong occult power and drug trafficking.

The city of Messina is divided into zones of influence, which are very often equal to the districts themselves, each governed by a Mafia clan that imposes its own power. Messina, however, has never been a keystone within the criminal organization of the island, the preponderant role related to the families of Palermo and Corleone has always been the one held by Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto, a town of about 50,000 inhabitants in the north coast of Sicily. The Barcellona family has always had a greater influence on the province of Messina also thanks to its internal vertical organization, similar to the one of Cosa Nostra in Palermo. According to Di Giorgio’s experience, it is an entrepreneurial Mafia that has constantly inserted itself within the legal economy, controlling most of the companies involved in the great public works and succeeding in imposing its own power thanks to violence and through many Mafia related murders, about 280, occurring for two fundamental reasons: the need of an internal cleaning and the elimination of subjects that bothered the criminal organization.

The Messina’s area has always been confronted with the plague of “Pizzo”, a widespread extortion method throughout the province, which, according to a study by the Chinnici Foundation, is the most expensive of all Sicily. The “Pizzo” is asked by Mafiosi for two main reasons: first, for economic reasons and the need of money that can be used immediately on various fronts, such as the maintenance of affiliates in prison and their families, there is also the purpose to assert their power in the region, this also generates a mechanism of fear that, combined with the little protection guaranteed by the Government, means that only a few people press charge and prefer to pay rather than risk. It is here that Di Giorgio stresses how fundamental it is that condemnations increase, but this can only be possible by having a higher level of trust in the institutions, this depends largely on the actions of the “legal operators” (ed. Legal attorneys, politicians, magistrates, men of the institutions).  A fundamental and very effective instrument to defeat the Mafias and drastically reduce their power is that of striking their patrimony: the instrument of the seizure and confiscation of the goods and properties, which becomes mortal for a mafioso, is therefore fundamental.

In this overview Libera and Addiopizzo put themselves in and try to bring to the city a participated fight against Mafias, a social anti-mafia that is not limited to the fight against organized crime, but that conveys values and choices that are totally different from the mafia mentality. This is the case of the campaign of “recruitment” of Pizzo-free business owners: create a network of merchants who oppose to the payment of the “Pizzo” to whom they give moral and legal support. Therefore, to create a clean and functioning alternative to the mafia one.

To make our contribution concrete, we have created flyers to distribute to business owners and customers to sponsor critical consumption, i.e. the purchase of products from shops that decide not to pay the “Pizzo”. Another testimony of social anti-mafia was brought to us by Angelo Cavallaro, school manager of IC Catalfamo and Salvatore Rizzo of Ecosmed, who told us how they are trying to change the city starting from projects in schools and, at an urban level, with the assignment of houses to families in precarious situations with the “Capacity Project”. Another practical example that we touched on was that of Gigliopoli, an association that organizes summer camps for children and welcoming projects, a unique reality that makes inclusion and legality its focal point, with the president of the association, Vincenzo Scaffidi, we talked about ethical and critical consumption, self-production, education and inclusion, many issues that fit perfectly within this vision.

One of Libera’s pillars is that of memory: a living and constant memory made by stories and faces of people that were killed by Mafias and can be an inspiration and an example. There were two moments dedicated to this during the camp: the first in memory of Giorgio Ambrosoli, a lawyer from Milan killed forty years ago, the second was the story of Domenico Nicolò Pandolfo, Head Physician at the reunited hospitals of Reggio Calabria, brutally killed on the 20th March 1993, he only had one fault: he was not able to save the daughter of the boss Cosimo Cordì affected by brain cancer. What increased the emotion of the moment was the fact that this story was told to us by Marco Pandolfo, son of Domenico, that during the week we had known only as a cook and travel companion and gifted us with the story of a good father.

Estate Liberi means all this and much more: it means living with people from all over Italy, with different stories and paths that merge in a week of commitment, study and improvement. It means finding an alternative to the distorted vision that the mafias impose on us, it means finding the beauty where it is complicated to see it, it means digging deep. A both physical and inner journey.

Record seizure – Europe flooded with cocaine


On 2nd August 2019, customs in Hamburg announced that 4,500 kilograms of cocaine had been confiscated in the port of Hamburg. This is the largest quantity of cocaine ever confiscated in Germany. The cocaine would have generated about 1.4 billion euros on the market. The drug, that came from South America, was very pure, and one gram of that would costs around 80 euros on the street.

The substance came in soy containers and was packed in sports bags. These containers often contain spare locks for the containers. Even before the containers “officially” arrive at the port, they are opened by special service providers on behalf of criminals, the sports bags are removed and the containers are secured again with the replacement locks, which are exact duplicates of the original locks, so that the removal of the bags is not traceable. This time, for some reason, the procedure didn’t work out and customs secured this immense amount of cocaine before criminals could get it. The substance is taken after confiscation and burnt under supervision.

This intercepted record delivery shows once again that Europe is experiencing a cocaine glut. Demand remains high, and the existing global anti-drug policy appears to be ineffective. Every day, the cocaine market ensures that billions of euros fall into the hands of criminal organisations. That is why it is important to combat money laundering effectively, because it is not only drugs that have a harmful effect, but also the financial gain that they generate. It is known that billions are being laundered in German real estate. It is good that the measures against this are being stepped up. It is extremely questionable why payment for real estate with cash is still permitted. This is an invitation to gangsters from all over the world to invest in Germany. However, a comprehensive fight against money laundering is needed. It must be ruled out that valuables such as used and new automobiles, watches, works of art and jewellery can be used for this purpose. Complicated mechanisms of money laundering such as trading in participations in companies and investments in protective financial instruments such as closed-end funds and trust constructions must also be brought to the fore.

Another aspect of cocaine glut that is often overlooked is the consumer side. Even top politicians consume the substance. However, social elites do not buy their drugs on the street market, but in structures such as luxury restaurants and other suitable outlets. These contacts between drug traffickers and such consumers do not favour the pursuit of the structures that supply these clients. For this reason, too, politically independent public prosecutors in Germany would be an important step in the fight against organised crime.

Why such an immense business as the one in Hamburg went wrong can only be speculated about now. New players are currently trying to gain a foothold in global trade. It remains to be seen whether this circumstance has anything to do with the recent record seizure. It will also be interesting to find out which backers are being investigated. Because a seizure alone is not very meaningful in the end.

mafianeindanke in the European Parliament


It was almost 12 years ago, when the first mafianeindanke activists in Berlin laid the foundations of our association. The situation back then was very complicated. There had been 6 mafia-members shot in front of a pizzeria in the city of Duisburg. And in Berlin, shortly after, more than 50 restaurant owners got a letter asking for protection money and some got their cars and restaurants set afire in the city. There was a lot to be worried about.
We stood united and, cooperating with the police, we managed to get the criminals arrested.
We were dreaming of waking up Germany.
Today, after 12 years, there are evidence showing that we didn’t make that dream come true (yet). Germany, in fact, scores an unbelievable 7th position in the world Financial Secrecy Index and it is a paradise for money launderers and their dirty capitals.
But our steady commitment brought also encouraging results. Our work was also facilitated by the inputs coming from the EU. For example, 5 years ago, thanks to an international European-funded research project, we organised a conference in Berlin for the promotion of confiscation measures in Europe
(maybe you, dear mister Tinè, might remember it).
Two years ago the new confiscation law – fostered by the EU-Directive – was presented by the German interior minister at another conference we organised – and last year we proudly witnessed a public prosecutor in Berlin fighting for the confiscation of criminal assets – seizing 77 properties and strongly promoting the new law. And she was our guest 5 years ago. You see, working together is key for success.
But what else does civil society need to be more effective in this fight?
Money, of course ?
We need to better know and study the phenomena of organised crime and mafias because we observe a dramatic lack of knowledge and awareness at all levels. In order to improve the production and dissemination of information, we would like to implement a European network of observatories, with the task of monitoring and studying the local and international criminal dynamics. These observatories would the place to develop and exchange new best practices. Criminal phenomena are in continuous transformation, adapting themselves to the evolving societies. Therefore, also the contrasting tools and methods have to be adjusted and new ones have to be conceived. For example, we are currently conducting in Berlin a feasibility analysis for supporting people in the dissociation from their criminal background.
In order to improve the effectiveness, we also need – as underlined by my CHANCE fellows – the harmonisation of the national laws in many areas.
We would like to point out for example the problems related to the lack of international coordination in the protection of witnesses and whistle blowers with a simple story:
in Germany lives an Italian woman, who through family relations got involved in the international traffics of an Italian-mafia network. When she realised that this business would put in danger herself and her kids, she decided to become a witness and spoke with the German police. Her declarations became key accusations in an Italian investigation, which led to one of the main recent operations against Italian mafia in Europe and to the arrest of dozens relevant members of mafia families. Despite this, she was not accepted in the German protection program. From a German point of view, the disclosed information was not sufficiently relevant – as there is no law punishing the belonging to a mafia group in Germany. This illustrative case shows how important is the European homogenisation of the protection programs for witnesses. It would also be essential to create mechanisms for the acquisition and exchange of information coming from witnesses, whistle blowers and informants, who often have a key role in unveiling organised crime and mafia structures.
In conclusion, I must say that I am very proud and thankful for the path we have built together with the CHANCE network. We believe that the variety of problems and the different contributions today highlighted that organised crime and mafias are phenomena affecting society as a whole.
We believe that the engagement of civil society has to play a key role.
It is a European problem, we need a European action and reaction.
I am sure that next time we will meet here we will be more – more people, more organisations, from all over Europe – with more tools and new methods.
Thank you very much.

M100 prize goes to an italian journalist and writer, Roberto Saviano


15 September 2016 M100 Sanssouci Colloquium took place. It is a conference that is held every year starting from 2005 in Potsdam in the Sanssouci Park. The idea of this event is to get together the most influential journalists, commentators, media owners and public key figures in order to discuss the role and the influence of media on the international market as well as to promote democracy and the freedom of speech.

In the end of the evening, the participants took part in the M100 gala. It is also then, when the individuals who have left a mark on the world are being awarded with M100 prize. This year the award went to Roberto Saviano, the author of the famous „Gomorrah” novel. The book has been translated into 51 languages, a movie and TV series have been filmed based on Roberto Saviano’s novel. The author wrote more books on the topic of mafia: „The Ring: & The Opposite of Death”, „Zero Zero Zero. How Cocaine dominates the world” to name but a few.

Expansion of the Russian mafia on the German territory


As reported this month, Russian mafia is gaining power in Germany. Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) estimates that up to 40 000 individuals who live in Germany may be connected to Russian organized crime groups. It should be kept in mind that these numbers come only from reported offenses, which means that, in reality, more men can be involved in the movement.

German and the Italian legal frameworks to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism


The International Monetary Fund has assessed the German and the Italian legal frameworks to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism. Reports have been published respectively in June and in February of this year. The evaluation of Italy is overall positive. Despite the high risk of money laundering, the country has a well developed legal system, authorities are able to undertake complex financial investigations, and entities involved in the prevention of money laundering have a good understanding of the phenomenon. Nevertheless, the achieved results are not commensurate with the volume of proceeds of crime generated in and outside the country. The use of shell-companies and other corporate vehicles for the purpose of money laundering and tax evasion is well known by authorities (especially by the Guardia di Finanza), however, more transparency with regard to beneficial owners is advocated. Particularly banks are considered vulnerable to money laundering due to the range of products they offer, the transaction volumes they handle, and the interconnectedness of the banking sector with the international financial system. Yet, the IMF does not call for the hardening of sanctions for banks, nor for the introduction of corporate liability.

Operation „Two Seas” – 11 tons of cocaine with an estimate worth of $3.3 billion seized


In the end of last month, the operation „Two Seas” came to a successful end exposing a multicontinental drug trafficking ring. The Colombian, Italian and US collaboration resulted in the seizure of 11 tons of cocaine with an estimate worth of $3.3 billion. The cocaine smuggling operation from Colombia to Europe was allegedly lead by Franco and Giuseppe Cosimo Monteleone who are said to be ‘Ndrangheta members with the help of local organized crime groups:National Liberation Army (ELN) and bandas criminals known as BACRIM. Each of the aforementioned organization was essential on the operational level and had its own role in the smuggling procedure: the former provided security for drug labs and smuggling routes to the latter that controlled the sea departure points where drugs were hidden in shipments of tropical fruit.

Norway – the least corrupted country in the world.


According to 2015 edition of Transparency Internationals’ Corruption Perception Index Denmark is the least corrupt country in the world. Until now it has been the most reliable and highly graded study in the domain of countries’ corruption rate. This year a new study conducted as a part of the ANTICORRP project (a EU-founded research group) has been released and surprisingly not Denmark but Norway is in the lead. The winner’s shift can be easily explained: the ANTICORRP research project founded by the European Commission re-evaluates the measurement variables in order to render them objective. Contrary to the Transparency International’s study, the corruption index is not measured by this specific countries experts according to each country’s domestic sense of what corruption is – the group studies publicly know data in the six big domains: judicial independence, administrative burden, trade openness, budget transparency, e-citizenship, and freedom of the press.