A new Financial Times report shines a light on a surprising link between the worlds of finance and organized crime. According to the story, financial institutions like pension funds, hedge funds, at least one Italian bank, and others have bought more than a billion dollars worth of private bonds backed by the organized crime organization known as 'Ndrangheta.
'Ndrangheta, considered the most powerful criminal organization in Italy reportedly backed the bonds through front companies meant to obscure the true origin of the organization's revenue, which comes from the usual mafia practices, including drug trafficking, money laundering, extortion, and other criminal activities. These companies' links to 'Ndrangheta are now leading to criminal charges and the exposure of some of the group's financial entanglements.
Some of the bonds were formed from unpaid public health debt on the part of companies to medical institutions in Italy, debt that was then bought off in huge quantities by the financial institutions in question. Other bonds were backed by the financial resources of a refugee camp in Calabria that was later discovered to be run by individuals convicted of stealing millions from European Union coffers.
€1 billion, or about $1.1 billion in American dollars, worth of these private bonds were purchased by these institutions from between 2015 and 2019, including Banca Generali and Banca Generali Fund Management Luxembourg.
The full fallout behind the news is yet to be seen, but Banca Generali is claiming in a press statement that at the time it invested in the mafia-backed bonds it was without any knowledge of their organized crime connection.
'Ndrangheta isn't as famous outside Italy as the Sicilian mafia most often depicted in popular crime fiction, but Europol and other organizations have classified it as one of the richest criminal organizations in the entire world, with an estimated annual financial turnover of some $49 billion.