Italy: Drug trafficking situation and trends



In August 2010, ESISC published a briefing on the BALKAN DRUG ROUTES, focusing on the role of Balkan countries in the international drug trafficking towards Western Europe. ESISC individuated three main sub-routes, the northern, the southern and the central one trough which drugs arrived in Western Europe. Italy figured in last two sub-routes as one of the main country in the illicit drug trafficking. Indeed Italy is one of the principal entry points for the drugs smuggled into Europe for different reasons:

  • Its central position in the Mediterranean sea;
  • Its closeness to the coast of North Africa- a new important drug production and storage area;
  • Its closeness to the coasts into the Balkans runs, the main land route followed by most heroin arriving from Afghanistan

These elements are strengthened by the presence of powerful domestic criminal organisations, among which the main ones are the Apulian Sacra Corona Unita, the Sicilian Mafia Cosa Nostra, the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta and the Neapolitan Camorra. Italian criminal organisations cooperate one with others but also with foreign criminal organisations. They have widespread and well-established branches abroad so that they can run international trafficking activities. They are dealt with drug producing organisations or their intermediaries. The Italian organised crime is attracted by the particular characteristic of each foreign group but it has to be pointed out that this aspect only aims an economic advantage, not a structural alliance.

  • Puglia - Sacra Corona Unita

Due to its closeness to the Balkan area, Puglia is a major crossroad for the illicit drug trafficking. The local organised crime, that is versatile and composed of groups  having no unitary and defined hierarchic structure, is profit-sharing oriented, cooperating with different criminal organisations and acting as an intermediary with the organisations from the Balkan area or just providing services and logistic support [1].

In 2010, an operation by Italian police hit the trafficking network between Puglia and Montenegro. The operation, labelled Domino, led to the arrest of 83 people, including the Sacra Corona Unita boss Savino Parisi. As reported in Narcomafie[2], Milan was the centre of a joint-venture between Parisi’s clan and the Serbo-Montenegrin ones. Reportedly, the so-called Balkan Holy Alliance administrated the routes along with Colombian narco-producers and provides Italian clans with drugs to be distributed on the territory.

  • Sicilia - Mafia Cosa Nostra

The Sicilian Cosa Nostra, is strictly related with trafficking of drug coming from Colombia, above all cocaine, which is then sold in Mazara (Trapani area) and in Bagaria (Palermo area), neuralgic centres of the organisation.

However, the Head of the Squadra Mobile of Trapani, Giovanni Leuci, revealed that the criminal group is generally indirectly involved in drug trafficking and only if the amount of the trafficking is about more than 300 thousand Euros. Indeed, generally, Cosa Nostra delegates the trafficking to “specialists”.

The clan can invest money, ensure coverage but id does not involve directly his “men”. It means that as general rule, in contrast with other criminal organisations, it contracts the trafficking to people who do not belong to the organisation.

  • Calabria - ‘Ndrangheta

For its part, ‘Ndrangheta maintains privileged contacts with Serbian and South American criminal groups. To recall, in 2010, a ton of cocaine (the largest cocaine seizure in the year) was seized in Calabria, in a container on board on cargo ship coming from Brazil and destined for the Gioia Tauro harbour. The harbour is crucial for the smuggling of cocaine coming from South America and destined to Northern Italia and Northern European markets. According to Francesco Forgione, former Deputy and President of the Italian Parliamentary Antimafia Commission, ‘Ndrangheta developed its presence in Latin America, above all in Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela but also in Mexico, Equador and Bolivia, especially after the crisis of Cosa Nostra’s influence in these areas, at the end of 1990.

Investigations carried out by Italian Police, in connection with Interpol, revealed that ‘Ndrangheta also asks for cocaine supplies to Serbian group since they can offer large quantities with a very high purity level at very low prices and take the risk connected to transport and storage [3]. Serbian cells, organised like a paramilitary structure, have indeed, a strong capability to avoid surveillance and contracting systems.

According to reports, the drug, coming from Serbia, arrives by ship and is stored in the ports of Arenzano and Marina di Pisa, central Italy before arriving in Milan, the major “plaza” to be sold to local dealers, affiliated to traditional clans of ‘Ndrangheta such as Barbaro-Papalia’s families or the Limbadi’s gang.  It has to be pointed out that Serbian criminals only dealt with large cocaine consignments, without cutting it or claiming commission. In this way they avoid to come in conflict with pushers or medium-low level traffickers allowing the whole chain to gain profits.

A report issue by the Italian strategic publication Osservatorio Italiano highlighted that this trafficking ring enjoys a turnover of 25-30 million Euros per year, and could even become a serious threat to the stability of the European Union.[4]  

  • Napoli - Camorra

Camorra clans have established strong contacts with South American traffickers, especially in Brazil, Cuba (Avana) and Domenican Republic. In Campania, in particular, the harbours of Naples and Salerno play a major role in the flow of international commercial routes. 

Despite numerous police operations, including arrests of key figures and dismantling of money laundering networks over the past years, Camorra clans however managed to sustain their activities and remain the most powerful Italian crime syndicates along with the ‘Ndrangheta.

Conclusion: impact over the country’s economy

In the last year, international drug trafficking confirmed to be an evolving threat for Italy, showing new features with worrying implications. The country has indeed been facing since several years the economic and social damage related to these activities. The transitional network increases with any doubt the dimension of black market and allowed a greater development of social instability in areas already marked by poverty and criminality especially in the South of Italy.

Moreover, According to the XII Report of the SOS Company, an Italian Association created by the Confederazione degli esercenti attività commerciali e turistiche (Confesercenti)[5], the turnover of criminal organisations in the last two years has been around 135 billions Euros, which correspond to the 7% of the Italian GDP. Over the past years, the so-called “Mafia plc.” has strengthened its position as the first Italian business company, mainly due to the profits earned from drug trafficking. This money allowed the criminal organizations to turn themselves into large Holding Companies highly interwoven with the society and the economy.

Meanwhile, the trans-national dimension of drug trafficking has imposed a stronger commitment in the counter narcotic actions. They must indeed be coordinated at international level in order to respond with adequate standards to all phases of the crime chain, from the illicit cultivation to precursor’s trade, from international trafficking to street pushing.

In the meantime, drug trafficking not only generates new criminal organisations and strengthens those already involved but contributes to produce and develop the relation system around them, overcoming the national borders and allowing to develop trans- border criminal networks managing all phases of the drug trafficking chain. 

[1] Annual Report of Italian Police, 2010,

[2] Cited in M. Albertini, The Adriatic Connection, Mafia links from Italy to Western Balkans, in, June 1, 2011,

[3] Clan Baltici contro ‘Nrangheta per il traffico di cocaina, Osservatorio Droga,

[4]S. Bizzarri, Cocaina? Chiedi ai Serbo-Montenegrini, in Narcomafie, May 10, 2010,

[5] XII Report of SOS Company issued on January 2010, available at:

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