When Prime Minister Mario Monti takes to the world stage this week he will be looking to show his British counterpart David Cameron and other world leaders that Italy is doing its utmost to shake up the economy and create future growth.

The country’s credit rating may be heading south and plenty of businesses are struggling to survive, but in a country where so much is hidden, there is often growth where you don’t see it.

Just last Friday Italian police discovered a “blind” person, who was registered as sight-impaired was employed at a municipal health office near Milan where she is accused of processing 135 files for other people who were afflicted by “imaginary illnesses”.

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The previous day a “totally blind” man was cited for receiving €160,000 in disability payments after police discovered him behind the wheel of a car and also riding a bicycle, while a Sardinian man with “100%” blindness was spotted signing a cheque a few days before.

As Monti prepares to reveal more about his strategy for labour reform and market liberalisation to cut debt and promote growth, perhaps it’s worth considering one of Italy’s other “blind” spots — the Mafia.

The Confesercenti, an association that represents about 350,000 small- and medium-sized businesses has just released a damning report saying the Mafia is aggressively targeting firms already hard hit by the current crisis and has created what it calls a “national emergency”.

“Small and medium-size businesses are the main victims of rackets, loan sharking, and robberies by organised crime that generate €140 billion a year of which €100 billion are extracted from companies,” says Marco Venturi, president of Confesercenti. “More than a million businessmen are victims of some kind of crime.”

In any other country it would provoke a national outcry. But as the news cycle moved on and businesses were left to deal with the daily challenges of loan sharking and standover tactics, MPs had other priorities. They gathered in Rome to protect one of their own.

On Thursday the lower house of parliament rejected a request from Naples prosecutors to arrest former economy under secretary Nicola Cosentino on suspicion of corruption with the notorious Neapolitan Mafia.

MPs voted 309 to 298 to deny the request after former government ally, Northern League leader Umberto Bossi, gave his MPs a conscience vote on the issue, as photos of Cosentino taken by anti-mafia investigators were published showing him with bank officials and alleged Mafia members.

Cosentino, aligned with former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party, is accused of pressuring members of Italy’s largest bank Unicredit into  financing a shopping mall with alleged ties to the Camorra’s notorious Casalesi clan.

Angelino Alfano, former justice minister who now heads Berlusconi’s party, defended the parliamentary vote. “It has not blocked the course of justice since the inquiry will proceed and at the end of it the judges will be free to clear or sentence Cosentino,” he told the daily, Corriere della Sera. “The parliament has not rejected an arrest after there is a sentence, but first there needs to be a trial.”

As Italians were left wondering about the prevalence of political cronyism, there was an outpouring of support for Giovanni Tizian, the latest journalist who is living under police protection because of mafia death threats .

Tizian, a 29-year-old freelance journalist from Calabria, has written for the small Gazzetta di Modena newspaper since 2006 — often about the extraordinary expansion of the Mafia, particularly the Camorra and the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta in  the north of the country.

Tizian’s family moved to Modena after his father, a bank official, was killed by the Calabrian Mafia in the southern town of Locri when Tizian was only seven years old.

He shows every sign of pursuing the courageous path adopted by Roberto Saviano, journalist and top-selling author of the book Gomorrah, who also lives under police escort for exposing the Neapolitan Camorra. “I will find a way to continue doing this work,” a defiant Tizian said.

The trouble is so many of Tizian’s enemies are determined to do the same.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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