ROME – Italian police on Tuesday arrested mobsters, businessmen and local politicians who allegedly used corrupt practices and bribes to gain control of a project to build wind farms in Sicily.
Operation “Aeolus,” named after the ancient Greek god of winds, netted eight suspects, arrested in the Trapani area of western Sicily, as well as in Salerno on the Italian mainland and in the northern city of Trento.
Police in Trapani said the local Mafia bribed city officials in nearby Mazara del Vallo so the town would invest in wind farms to produce energy.
The project, worth hundreds of millions of euros (dollars), was first devised in 2003 and later uncovered by an investigation that included wiretaps, police said in a statement.
Investigators discovered that luxury cars and thousands of euros in bribes were given to politicians to ensure that a Mafia-backed company won the lucrative public contract.
The suspects also illegally accessed the municipality’s safe to copy the proposal of a rival company, which was later excluded from the bidding.
“All activities were controlled by these businessmen tied to Cosa Nostra,” police official Giuseppe Linares told Italy’s Sky TV. “Not only the construction of the plant, but also all the subcontracts for building materials: concrete, carpentry, electric systems and metal.”
The police statement said the businessman allegedly heading the project on behalf of the Mazara crime clan had links to Matteo Messina Denaro, a fugitive who investigators say is one of Cosa Nostra’s top bosses.
The infiltration of construction and other public works contracts in Sicily has long been a source of income for Cosa Nostra.
But lately the Sicilian Mafia has been hurt by top arrests and a growing rebellion by the island’s businessmen against systematic extortion. It has also lost ground in the drug trade to other Italian organized crime groups, mainly the Calabria-based ‘ndrangheta.