Ex-Mafia vineyards to boost Italian economy

Unicredit bank is to help fund the establishment of new vineyards on 150 hectares near Palermo confiscated from ex-Mafia boss Michele Greco, who died in prison in 2008.

Former Mafia boss Michele Greco

The funding is part of a €1.2 billion EU project to integrate ex-Mafia land, including vineyards in Sicily, Calabria, Puglia and Campagna, back into the legal economy.

Nicknamed “The Pope,” Greco (left), the one time head of the Cosa Nostra, was serving a life sentence for ordering numerous murders, including the 1982 assassination of Italy’s top anti-Mafia fighter, Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, and his wife.

The investment project aims to boost the flagging Italian economy, creating jobs which will help to establish a culture that rejects, rather than protects, organised crime.

It also puts Mafia land confiscated by authorities back into productive use.

“What was an emblem of the economic force of the Mafia is now becoming a symbol of Sicily’s rebirth,” Sicilian economic commissioner Gaetano Armao said at the Vinitaly trade fair on Monday.

So far €61m has been invested in relaunching ex-organised crime businesses. The project involves 125 hectares of vineyards and 800 hectares of olive and citrus trees.

“The companies show that by defeating the Mafia you can begin to legally produce wines, oil and high-quality agricultural goods in the interest of the workers and the producers,” Sicilian governor Raffaele Lombardo told AP.

Centopassi Grillo

Most of the land converted into productive use by the project has long been left fallow by former masters after they are jailed.

“By the time the vineyards can be turned over to new owners, most of the vines have died from neglect and need replanting,” said Francesco Galante, a spokesman for the Libera network, which oversees the reintegration of Mafia lands.

At the beginning of the project there were acts of intimidation, including arson fires.

“It was discouraging, but then the project did well and created opportunities to work. At that point, the mood changed and the acts of intimidation stopped,” said Galante.

Libera’s wine business, including Centopassi – on show at Vinitaly – produced half a million bottles in 2011, generating €900,000.

Each of the Centopassi wines is dedicated to someone assassinated by the Mafia. The white wine – Grillo – is a homage to Nicolo Azoti, a union leader killed in 1946.

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