A total of 94 people have been arrested in connection with allegations that the Sicilian mafia has defrauded the European Union for a sum of £ 8.5 million.
On Wednesday, detectives who believed that thousands of hectares of farmland fraudulently qualified to receive financial aid conducted raids at dawn across the island.
Prosecutors claim two Mafia clans claimed subsidies for land they didn’t own.
Among those arrested were the heads of the two families, several public officials who help farmers request help from the EU, a local mayor and an accountant.
Some 150 companies were also seized as part of the investigation.
In the arrest warrant, Judge Sergio Mastroeni wrote: “The mafia (there) has such power that they took control of 15 hectares of land by a simple phone call. There were no threats needed.
“With the mafia, you just have to say your name, if it is necessary to mention the fact that you just got out of jail.”
The judge believes that the suspects managed to obtain the illicit funds with the help of “white collar workers” who help them negotiate the bureaucratic world of EU funding.
In the past, farmers who refused to engage in fraudulent practices reported having been threatened by the mafia.
The EU pays around £ 45 billion a year in subsidies to support agriculture and keep rural communities alive.
Previously, farmers who refused to participate in fraudulent practices reported being threatened by the mafia.
Teresa Bellanova, Minister of Agriculture of Italy, said “the gravity of what has emerged is enormous,” and said that the raids at dawn show how the gangsters are evolving, which are traditionally associated with drug trafficking.
“It is also clear how harmful it is to remove significant European resources from good agriculture and quality businesses, which make up the majority (of companies) in eastern Sicily, and direct them to gangs in the Mafia.”