Why the Mafia believe in Denmark. And how Denmark has made them a fortune
Reading the news in Denmark is a cheerier affair than in many countries. Topping happiness polls, winning the handball, conquering inequality: it’s all rosy here – not rotten at all.
It can also sometimes feel just a little dull.
Morten Beiter, the author of ‘Mafiaen Kommer’, a book warning of the tentacular reach of the Italian mafia around Europe, has done his best to buck this trend.
Soon after the book’s publication in 2016, he was contacted by workers at the company 3F, who alerted him to suspicious companies operating in railway construction in Aarhus and Copenhagen.
His subsequent investigation, alongside colleague Klaus Wivel, uncovered links between two ‘Ndrangheta – Calabrian mafia – clans and certain companies that had won contracts to work on these projects, sending shockwaves through Denmark.
The mafia had already come, it seemed.
Under the carpet
One thing that struck Beiter in the aftermath of the 3F investigation, however, was how quickly interest in the possibility of the mafia operating in Denmark subsided.
“I think one MP brought it up in Parliament, and the police opened an investigation,” says Beiter. “It took them about two weeks to close it again.
“There were some searches in a pizzeria in Copenhagen – they didn’t find anything. There was very little knowledge about the Italian mafia at the time – except from what they had learnt from ‘The Godfather’.
“For example, there didn’t seem to be any common knowledge that the Italian mafia is not one organisation, but a lot of different organisations from different cultures. The lack of basic knowledge was worrying for me. It’s sad to say, but I was a bit concerned when they closed the investigation down.”
Who cares anyway?
So far, Denmark appears to have been relatively resilient to mafia infiltration compared to other EU states such as Germany and the Netherlands. Then again, if there is no violence on the streets, and no attention is paid to potential money laundering, how can we be sure?
“People know something is going on,” says Beiter. “But as long as there is no shooting nor violence going on, they prefer, the politicians prefer not to do anything about it.
“That’s also the general feeling, and that’s also my feeling about it, because we did that research in 2016, but that was also the general impression,” he continued.
“Later on I heard there were no resources – there was not much interest in carrying out investigations into non-violent crimes, you know. So as long as no-one’s shooting on the streets, organised criminals have a degree of liberty.”
‘Ndrangheta keeps on growing
It is no surprise that it was the ‘Ndrangheta that was unearthed first here in Denmark: the Calabrian organisation now operates on every continent.
Nicola Gratteri is one of the most important figures in the fight against organised crime in Italy and, being from the region of Calabria, he specialises in the ‘Ndrangheta.
Not only is he the magistrate presiding over the biggest mafia trial in Italy for 30 years, he also publishes books and conducts in-depth investigations into the Calabrian clans.
Beiter himself has spoken with Gratteri many times, most recently last year in Weekendavisen.
Through his investigations, Gratteri discovered that the ‘Ndrangheta has become the most powerful and the richest of the Italian syndicates.
One advantage the ‘Ndrangheta has – even over other Italian mafia organisations – is its low profile. It has a history of kidnappings, which is how it began making big money, but the last of those was in 1998, after which the organisation slipped into relative anonymity.
Some people, even in Italy, believed it had slowly disintegrated and was no longer a relevant power.
The reality was exactly the opposite. In the cocaine trade, the ‘Ndrangheta had found its golden goose: it no longer needed the ransom money from kidnappings. The firm had been fostering direct links with South American drug cartels, from the ‘80s onwards, and by the early 2000s the business in Europe had exploded.
Today, the ‘Ndrangheta is estimated by Gratteri to control 80 percent of the European cocaine trade. It has achieved this while remaining the most mysterious and underreported Italian crime syndicate. It is said to operate on every continent on the globe, raking in over 50 billion euros a year.
Denmark and Europe
But why is all this relevant to little old Denmark? If the ‘Ndrangheta had decided to come here, surely there would be signs, wouldn’t there? The 3F investigation was probably just an isolated event after which they decided to pack up and go home.
According to Beiter, it is not so simple. Part of what makes it difficult to impede criminal organisations, on an international level, is the open nature of the EU.
A combination of the free flow of people, money and businesses, as well as a lack of specific legislation against organised crime, has made it a fertile breeding ground for the mafia in Europe.
“That’s the problem. We want to trade with each other and make it easy for the money to flow from country to country, but by doing that we are also facilitating a free market for organised crime,” explained Beiter.
“Gratteri told me that in Germany you cannot put up microphones in a public area. That’s linked to the World War II and the Cold War and so on. In Spain you cannot search a room before dawn, or while it’s still dark, and that is something to do with fascism and Franco and so on. Italy is the only country where being a member of the mafia is a crime in itself.”
In the shadows
“It’s very difficult to catch them. Bilateral operations are possible, but they have to start from scratch each time they begin an investigation. So there really should be a centralised police force that gathers information that can be reused and so on,” Beiter continued.
In Denmark, and in Europe in general, the laundering of dirty money acquired by illegal means, such as selling drugs, is often overlooked or misunderstood. Sometimes, there is simply not that much interest in it.
“It is kind of worrying that no-one asked any questions in Denmark after the 3F case. They just thought about the money: ‘This is cheap, let’s go with this company’. In Denmark they pretend they don’t know what’s going on in Italy, maybe they really don’t know.”
The problem is neither violence nor kidnapping, it is the corruption that is laundering spawns; the myth of ‘the mafia creates jobs’.
Europe’s washing machines
Beiter is concerned about the lack of interest in money that could have been gained by illegal means. Companies are happy as long as the job they are paying for gets done, and they are especially happy if they can pay less for it.
This is how mafia groups operate: they are able to offer contracts at bargain prices, because their profit comes largely from the insanely lucrative cocaine trade. Their main problems are not profit and loss, but simply how to convert their rooms full of cash into legitimate capital.
This is how the ‘Ndrangheta has forced its way into the fabric of society in northern Italy. In the north, just like in northern Europe today, people used to scoff at the idea of the mafia taking root. The general opinion was that it was ‘just something between Southerners – it won’t happen here’.
This was an error. Imperceptibly at first, the ‘Ndrangheta coaxed its way into building societies, hospitals and politics. Now, in northern Italy, the battle has been decidedly lost.
What to do?
“The best way would be to acknowledge that we have a problem. We should get together with the other European countries and see how we can solve this problem together with common legislation and also a united police force – a specialised police force.”
Beiter suggests a sort of European FBI, which can keep records and combat organised crime over long periods. “But I don’t think this could ever happen in Denmark: the idea of a foreign police force coming in from outside and overruling the Danish police force,” he adds. “I don’t think that could ever happen.”
“What we really have to do is adopt the Italian anti-mafia scheme. So let’s say we do this FBI in Europe, it would have to include a lot of Italians in the system, because they have the knowledge and they’ve got what it takes. The Italians should really be the teachers in this system. You could say you have Europol, but that’s more like a co-ordinating institution.”
Where are we now?
So where does Beiter feel we can go from here?
“We’re at a crossroads, and we have to decide to get more united and be a more united Europe, or retreat, because where we are now is not a good place to be. I think we should go ahead and make a more efficient and united Europe. That’s my opinion.
“I don’t think it’s functional to stay where we are right now. Of course Brexit didn’t help. If we stay where we are, it will just create more confusion. You can’t cross a river and just stop in the middle and stay there – you’ll just get colder and colder. You have to cross to the other side or go back where you came from,” contended Beiter.
“We can’t discuss the mafia in terms of gunfights in the streets. Today the mafia invests in wind turbines, tourism, anything. Where there’s money to be made you’ll find the mafia. You can’t see it, you can’t smell it, but it’s there, and it’s eating up our economy from the inside. It’s depressing, but I don’t think anyone wants to do anything about it because there are no votes in it.”