Anti-mafia investigators in Italy have seized assets valued at 1.3 billion euros ($1.67 billion) from a Sicilian businessman believed to have ties to organized crime.
It is believed to be the biggest such confiscation of assets to date in Italian history.
Vito Nicastri, known as the King of Wind, was forced to relinquish his properties, as well as cash and interests in alternative energy companies, including wind power firms (hence, the inspiration for his nickname). On the whole, Nicastri, 57, lost 43 companies, 98 properties, 66 bank accounts, credit cards, investment funds, sports cars and yachts.
Ostensibly a businessman and electrician, Nicastri allegedly had ties to senior Mafia figures, including Matteo Messina Denaro, a Sicilian mafia godfather who has been a fugitive from the law for 20 years, and made his name as an alternative energy entrepreneur.
"This is a sector in which money can easily be laundered," Arturo de Felice, the director of the Anti-Mafia Investigative Directorate, told SkyTG24. As a front man, Nicastri allegedly invested huge sums of money generated by criminal activities, including extortion and drug trafficking, into clean energy projects and other legitimate enterprises on behalf of mobsters.
De Felice marveled at the magnitude of Nicastri’s assets that were confiscated. "These assets will now pass directly to the state," he said. "This is an unprecedented sum. It is something we are justifiably proud of.”
Ivan Lo Bello, vice president of business lobby organization Confindustria, said in a tweet that "Matteo Messina Denaro is behind many businessmen considered above suspicion who manage and take care of the assets of the real boss of Cosa Nostra. The fight against money laundering is fundamental to the crushing of the mafia."
The Daily Telegraph reported that investigators in Italy suspect that organized crime groups like the Cosa Nostra in Sicilia and ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria have laundered dirty money through renewable energy projects, while taking advantage of large subsidiaries provided by the European Union.
However, according to reports, it is unclear if Nicastri has been arrested or not. The Guardian newspaper of Britain reported that Nicastri is “under surveillance” and ordered by police to remain in his hometown of Alcamo, on Sicily’s west coast, for a period of three years.
Meanwhile, Messina Denaro, 51, the apparent "boss of all bosses" in Sicily, remains in hiding. He is one of the most wanted men in the world.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.