Coronafather: An Offer They Can’t Refuse
Marcello owns a restaurant in the city centre of Palermo, which he had to shut in March.
He is expecting to get an offer he can’t refuse. It’s all very straightforward, he says. A mafioso knocks on your door and offers to buy your business, there and then. That’s when you negotiate on the price. Then, someone transfers part of the money into your account, and the rest you get in cash.
“Right now, my business is sinking. And when someone throws a life vest at you, you can either choose to drown with your ideals, or swim.”
But the mafia will always come back to collect, says Gaspare Mutolo, a former Sicilian mafioso who became a key witness in dozens of mafia cases.
“That’s exactly how I used to operate,” he says. “I was always so charming. I appeared generous. I never showed my true colours. But mind you, I was a criminal who killed more than 20 people.”
Mutolo spoke to the BBC from a secret location where he is under police protection and spends his days painting. His works often depict the tentacles of the mafia reaching into communities. He says that whenever he “helped” a family in need, they didn’t care who he was.
“When your children are crying because there’s no food on the table or if your business is about to go bankrupt you don’t think about the consequences of getting help from the wrong people. You just think about surviving.”
Then when local elections were approaching, he would go to the people he had helped and say: “Ciao bella, remember me? I helped you when you needed me. Now, I need you. And all I ask is that you cast your vote for this candidate.”
Mutolo says the mafia has money readily available to spend in case of a crisis. “They are much more efficient than the state when it comes to helping those in need,” he says.
Antonio and his wife Francesca own a butcher’s shop in a small whitewashed town in Apulia, in southern Italy, which has been struggling in lockdown.
A few days ago, one of their regular clients came into their shop and offered a cash loan to help them out.
“We looked each other in the eye. Our hearts sank, and we immediately realised what was going on,” Antonio said.
He and his wife refused the offer, but loans are a core mafia business. They give loans, and then “a slow agony begins”, says Mr Gratteri.
“The ultimate aim of the mafioso is never to make money, but to take over the business and use it to launder money.”
Since the lockdown began, a helpline that supports victims of extortion has received a 100% increase in reports, especially from small businesses.
“If the Italian government isn’t capable of helping these people, they will be thrown into the arms of the mafia”, says Attilio Simeone, who works for the helpline.
As the world faces its worst downturn since the Great Depression, many Italians will be on their knees.