The murder in Melbourne this week of Joseph Acquaro, a lawyer with links to the Calabrian mafia in Australia, has brought the activities of a group that largely operates under the public radar back into the spotlight.
But exactly what role does the mafia play in organised crime? And should Australian law enforcement agencies be reassessing their priorities?
The FBI describes the mafia as the most notorious and widespread of all criminal societies. It outlines four main groups:
- the Sicilian mafia;
- the Camorra or Neapolitan mafia;
- the ’Ndrangheta or Calabrian Mafia; and
- the Sacra Corona Unita, or United Sacred Crown.
The FBI estimates the worldwide value of the mafia’s criminal enterprise to be US$100 billion annually.
Traditionally originating from Italy, the mafia is still active today in its country of origin. The World Economic Forum’s 2015/2016 Global Competitiveness Report ranked Italy 130th out of 140 countries for organised crime activity (the lower the ranking the worse the result).
A 2013 Europol threat assessment listed the mafia’s main markets as drug trafficking, corruption, counterfeiting, money laundering and trafficking of waste. The report noted the infiltration of the legal economy and the attractiveness of internet-based crime to the mafia.
A 2015 report from the European Joint Research Centre on Transnational Crime argued that not only is the mafia – especially the Camorra and ‘Ndrangheta – involved in illicit activity, but it is also heavily investing in legitimate businesses.
There is little doubt that the mafia is a major player in transnational crime markets.
The mafia threat in Australia
The Italian mafia has operated in Australia for a long time.
The 1977 murder of political campaigner Donald Mackay at the hands of the Calabrian mafia placed the mafia in the spotlight. In the 1990s, law enforcement agencies were aware of intelligence in relation to the mafia’s criminal activities in Australia.
A recent ABC expose highlighted how the mafia is alive and well in Australia as a major player in organised crime. Just last month, Italian authorities raided ‘Ndrangheta members in a cocaine-trafficking ring in Italy that had strong ties to Australia.
What is striking about Acquaro’s murder is that law enforcement knew it was potentially coming. On the basis of what could only have been reliable intelligence, Victorian Police saw fit to warn him only months ago that he was possibly being targeted.