Rome, Jul 8: Italian authorities said on Wednesday they had seized assets worth more than 1.6 billion euros (USD 1.75 billion) from a family of five Sicilian pensioners believed to have links to a prominent mafia clan.
The huge sweep of businesses, property and bank accounts "represents, in total value, one of the biggest seizures ever made", the anti-mafia department (DIA) said. Authorities said the syndicate cultivated ties with the Italian anti-mafia movement in an effort to hide its activities from police.
"They struck upon the idea of developing ties with anti-racketeering groups in an attempt to make themselves look innocent while being targeted by criminal probes," Colonel Riccardo Sciuto of the DIA told a press conference. The operation in Palermo was aimed at "known entrepreneurs from the Palermo area who belong to the Marineo mafia family, linked to the Corleone clan," the DIA said.
In total, 33 companies -- mostly in the cement business -- 700 houses, villas and buildings, as well as 40 bank accounts and 40 vehicles were seized. The haul belonged to Carmelo Virga, 66, his brothers Vincenzo, 78, and 71-year-old Francesco, and their sisters Anna, 76, and Rosa, 68.
While all came from modest backgrounds working in agriculture or as homemakers, they became very rich. Authorities said bid rigging was one of their key enterprises. "Complex investigations have uncovered how the Virgas have benefitted from the backing of the Cosa Nostra in the bidding for these works and public tenders in the construction sector," the DIA said.
The family "succeeded over time in developing and imposing their group of companies, by using the method known as 'Siino', which consists of organising cartels of entrepreneurs with a view to the 'directed' bidding for public tenders."