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La Cosa Nostra expands its reach

Bloomberg.com reports that the Sicilian Mafia has lately been involved in increasingly sophisticated business deals as part of a move to launder funds, legitimize itself, and branch out.

In "Mafia Loot Financed Aborted Gas Scheme...", reporter Steve Scherer describes how the arrest of Mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano led to knowledge of the Sicilian Mafia's dealings in the natural gas business.

The deal -- which was thwarted by Italian investigators -- highlights the changes in the Sicilian Mafia over the past few years. The Sicilian mob, known as Cosa Nostra, has had a stranglehold on the island's economy since the organized crime families first rose to prominence in the mid-1800s.

It's only recently that the Mafia has been in contact with people capable of putting together a legitimate transaction of the scale and sophistication of the Kazakh gas deal -- involving some of the biggest companies in Europe and one of the world's most- sought-after commodities. It's the kind of deal that would make television's Tony Soprano sit back and light up a cigar.

``Today's mobsters try to create their own businesses,'' says Pietro Grasso, Italy's chief Mafia prosecutor. Grasso formerly was the top prosecutor in Palermo, Sicily, where he spent seven years hunting Provenzano.

``It's more and more common that when we seize a mobster's holdings, 40 percent of what we take is either a business or a commercial activity,'' Grasso says.

Interesting stuff. Read on at the link above for details of the deal and the Mafia's increasing economic sophistication (to borrow Bloomberg's phrase).

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