November 21, 2008 in Nation/World

Loan sharks thriving in Italy

By Christine Spolar Chicago Tribune

ROME – The worldwide economic downturn has opened the door for loan sharks to burrow ever deeper into Italy’s vulnerable economy by preying on businesses that need quick cash and credit, according to a new report by a respected trade group.

Confesercenti, a business association that has tracked Mafia income for the past 15 years, found that the credit crunch has a particularly sinister side in a country of 58 million people that struggles with four large Mafia gangs – the Cosa Nostra, ’Ndrangheta, Camorra and Sacra Corona Unita – and other criminal enterprises.

In the past year, 180,000 businesses in an economy dominated by small businesses apparently have succumbed to loan sharks, in part because they can no longer qualify for bank loans, according to a report released last week in Milan.

According to surveys by Confesercenti, Rome is the nation’s biggest loan shark market, Venturi said, and cooperation with criminality is part of the unfortunate times: Italy officially fell into recession this week and criminal gangs are poised to take full advantage.

Criminal groups account for about 6 percent of Italy’s gross domestic product.

“The reality is Italy depends on its small businesses for vitality,” said Marco Venturi, head of the association that produced “Crime’s Hold on Business.” “Now, they are falling into the grip of criminals.”

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