The still-emerging links of the mafia to the once-booming wind and solar sector here are raising fresh questions about the use of government subsidies to fuel a shift toward cleaner energies, with critics claiming huge state incentives created excessive profits for companies and a market bubble ripe for fraud.
According to court documents, wiretap transcripts and interviews with officials familiar with the investigations, mafia involvement in the renewables sector followed a familiar path. Crime families and businessmen would target land suitable for wind or solar plants, sometimes pressuring landowners to sell or offer long-term leases. Corrupt local officials were enlisted to speed through application processes that could otherwise take three to six years. After receiving approval, they would approach foreign investors eager to tap the Italian government’s green subsidies program.
Indeed, the mafia has targeted legitimate businesses in Sicily beyond renewable energy, with a 2008 probe revealing the island’s largest supermarket chain to be a front for mafia cash. Sicily’s former governor Raffaele Lombardo stepped down last July after being charged with mafia ties. His predecessor, Salvatore “Toto” Cuffaro, is serving a seven-year jail sentence after being convicted on organized crime charges.
Citing its poor finances and a mountain of debt, the Italian government is now curbing new subsidies for renewable energies. A nationwide program has also been rolled out requiring developers to sign affidavits proving they have no links to organized crime.