In Credit-Crunched Italy, Crime Starts to Pay

The Italian Mafia, ever a mainstay of movies and TV shows, recently made the news in an interesting way. As it turns out, with the collapse of the Italian credit market, the mafia is quickly becoming the largest financial institution in Italy, lending almost $180 billion annually[1] with profits nearing 100 billion euros. The mafia is by far the most liquid institution in the country, according to Italian anti-crime group SOS Impresa.[2] The clients of this less-than-legal “bank” are primarily small businesses and shops looking to find financing in an environment where legal banks are tightening their lending requirements. The mafia, however, can afford to be more lenient, since it can enforce payments through various illegal means. The result is a cadre of clean-cut looking bankers and lawyers with the backing of the Cosa Nostra, Camorra, and ‘Ndrangheta.

The most shocking thing, however, is that this activity is equivalent to a whopping 7% of the entire Italian GDP. In 2010, three of the largest banks in the United States—JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo—collectively made a before-tax income of only 0.3% of US GDP.[3] Keep in mind that these three institutions have the benefits of being legal, able to draw from a large pool of talent, and can advertise, among other advantages. This is not to say that the Mafia necessarily runs a better business than these three companies. It does, however, show just how dire the situation in Italy is due to the locked-up credit markets.


[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/the-mafia-is-now-italys-largest-bank/2012/01/11/gIQARWooqP_blog.html

[2] http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/10/us-italy-mafia-idUSTRE8091YX20120110

[3] Source: Yahoo! Finance and the International Monetary Fund

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