Friday, November 17, 2006

The raising of Gomorrah

Earlier this month, I posted about Roberto Saviano's Gomorra, his tracing of the business of the Camorra in every part of Southern Italian life, an exposé that has earned him ostracism and a police escort. Michael Ledeen in NRO describes some of the ways the Camorra makes its money.

The newspaper accounts are way behind the times in their description of the camorra, for they routinely list its primary activities as drugs, prostitution, extortion, and public works. Some of the better Italian journalists have pointed out that the mob runs at least one third of the security companies in town, including a big chunk of the armored trucks that carry money and financial documents. They don’t need to steal, they simply control the cash. And the old protection racket — forcing shop owners to pay a fixed amount each month to guarantee they won’t be robbed or mugged — is also old hat, since the camorra either directly or indirectly controls roughly half of all retail outlets in the city.

The traditional picture of organized crime also ignores some of their most lucrative criminal enterprises, as for example the billion-dollar clothing industry, described in detail in a recent Italian best-seller, Gomorra, written by a 28-year old Neapolitan journalist named Roberto Saviano. Camorra companies in and around Naples produce tens of thousands of high-end branded clothes, including labels like Armani and Versace. Just like the authentic products, these are hand-stitched by skilled tailors, and are in fact indistinguishable from those manufactured at the official factories. Same materials, same quality, same label. The knockoffs are sometimes added to legitimate shipments, sometimes simply delivered directly to buyers in and outside Italy. Customers have no way of knowing where the clothes were made, nor, in many cases, do the producers know where their products are going. Saviano tells a moving story about a camorra tailor whose talent was the equal of anyone in the great fashion houses. One night he was watching the Academy Awards on television, and saw Britney Spears dancing in a gown he had made.
He also writes about why it is so difficult to overcome the Camorra and gives two examples of when it has been done.

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