The grand master of the Grande Oriente d’Italia (GOI) lodge, Giuliano di Bernardo, claimed in trials in 2014 and 2019 that linked the ’Ndrangheta with terrorism that he had a discussion with the Duke of Kent, the grand master of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), in the early 1990s over infiltration of the Italian lodges in the south of the country by criminal clans.
“It was the Duke of Kent who suggested that I leave the GOI and create a new order,” he claimed. “I would like to point out that the Calabrian context was very concerning because Freemasonry there was much more extensive and powerful than in Sicily.”
A spokesman for the Duke said he “would never comment on vague sensationalist claims based on alleged conversations from over 30 years ago, suddenly made in a court case which until now was unheard of”. UGLE said it had no comment to make about alleged criminal elements in a foreign constitution with no connection to it but added: “It sounds as though some Italians might, certainly at that time, have significantly lost their way.”
In the minds of Italian investigators who have followed the ’Ndrangheta’s illicit activities, a new problem now looms large: Brexit. Magistrates and police officials in the country have shared concerns that ’Ndrangheta clans may try to take advantage of the UK’s exit from the European Union, if, as they fear, police and judicial cooperation between the EU and UK proves less effective than when both countries were in the bloc.
“With Brexit, things could spin out of control,” Gratteri said.
According to investigators and experts, the UK could equally be left to fight the ’Ndrangheta clans without international judicial support and the assistance of Italian investigators.
“When the UK was part of the European Union, it benefited from the effective sharing of data in the fight against organised crime,” Italy’s national anti-mafia prosecutor, Federico Cafiero De Raho, told the Guardian.
“Now that it has left the EU, problems will start to emerge. London will not be absent, but things will change and even the best post-Brexit cooperation will be less effective than within the EU. Today’s mafias are moving among countries and continents, and where they find weakness in international cooperation, they exploit that opportunity.”
Among the consequences of Brexit are the UK leaving the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), a provision that allowed for fast extradition, as well as the European Investigation Order (EIO), which empowered countries to call upon a member state to lead an investigation, place wiretaps, or track a suspect.
“Italy and the UK will sign agreements to continue such efforts,” Cafiero said. “However, in practice, the collaboration will be different.”
“Imagine two investigators from two different EU member states who are looking, at the same time, into a wiretap from two different screens and while in two different countries,” added Cafiero. “Non-EU countries will have more difficulty participating in a team of this sort.”
It is a view the UK disputes, saying its deal with the EU allows for extradition as effective as the EAW, bilateral information sharing, arrangements to simplify asset confiscation and full participation in investigatory teams with EU member states.
“The agreement the UK reached with the EU delivers a comprehensive package of capabilities which ensures we can work with partners in Europe, including Italy, to tackle serious crime and terrorism – protecting the public and bringing criminals to justice,” said Kevin Foster, the UK minister for future borders and immigration, in a statement.
“It includes streamlined extradition arrangements, continued exchange of data for law enforcement purposes and arrangements enabling close and effective cooperation with Europol and Eurojust. We are committed to working together with European partners, including Italy, to counter the threats we all face, within Europe and beyond. The UK will continue to be a global leader on security and one of the safest countries in the world.”
Of the Italian fears, Tim O’Sullivan, a former crown prosecutor and chair of the Law Society’s EU committee, said: “These concerns are certainly shared because at the moment there is still uncertainty on how the new arrangements will work.
“The EU mechanisms give law enforcement a legal basis on which to operate. [But] This doesn’t mean that in the new cooperation agreement there aren’t the means to address these concerns.”
In the meantime, to make things worse, Covid-19 and the financial crisis generated by the pandemic have amplified the risk that the ’Ndrangheta could deepen its involvement in international markets.
Giuseppe Lombardo, the deputy prosecutor of Reggio Calabria, warned that “in a phase of very scarce global liquidity, the goal of the ’Ndrangheta will be to create a banking system parallel to the legal one”, as all the eyes are on the City.
Federico Varese, a professor of criminology at the University of Oxford, believes Brexit is forcing the UK government to rethink the fight against transnational organised crime.
“Criminals consider borders an opportunity and will make the most of it,” said Varese. “It is just another price of Brexit.”
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