Michael Gregorio


date: 25 August 2014 at 11:25:29 - 0 comments

We won’t be taking part in the so-called ‘ice-bucket’ challenge, and for two very good reasons.

First, it seems more like shameless self-promotion than charitable work to act silly, film yourself, or have someone film you, doing something which is pointless.

According to the newspapers in Italy, all the media ‘stars’ have taken part and the social web is overwhelmed by videos of the ‘events’, but the amount of money actually raised to fund research into ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – SLA in Italian) amounts to less than €70,000 in Italy…

The second reason?

We had a very close friend – a warm, generous, brilliant and intelligent woman – who died of the disorder four years ago. We wish to remember her as she was. We don’t think she would appreciate publicity ghouls making the most of the suffering that she was obliged to go through.

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Costa Concordia

date: 06 August 2014 at 17:28:34 - 0 comments

What do you do with a captain who sinks his passenger cruise-liner with a loss of 33 lives, then abandons ship and all the passengers remaining on board?

Does that sound like a nutty question?

In any country in the world you’d whip him naked through the streets, heap him with insults, accuse him of cowardice and gross negligence, charge him with criminal manslaughter and other nautical crimes, then you’d try him, lock him up and close him out of your mind as quickly as possible.

In any other country in the world, as I said…

...but NOT in Italy!

Captain Francesco Schettino, who is on trial for the sinking of the S.S. Costa Concordia in the Mediterranean Sea on 13th January, 2012, and causing the loss of 33 lives (including the corpse of a steward which has still not been recovered) was invited to speak in public about the disaster earlier in the month. Indeed, he was invited to ‘La Sapienza,’ the venerable University of Rome, to talk about the role which panic sometimes plays in fatal disasters…

Can you imagine it? 

Prof. Vincenzo Mastronardi, the teacher who was running a Masters course in Criminological Science at ‘La Spaienza’ University, placed the following announcement on his Facebook page:

11.00-12.30 RECONSTRUCTION OF EVENTS LEADING UP TO THE SINKING OF THE COSTA CONCORDIA with 3D graphics provided by Ing. IVAN PADUANO of La Sapienza, Rome. A commentary will be provided by COMANDANTE FRANCESCO SCHETTINO.

Then Prof. Mastronardi had the courage to write this:

There will be a discussion at the end of the lesson…

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

date: 06 August 2014 at 15:44:36 - 0 comments

We went to prison the other week.

The inmates were performing a play called “The Best of All Possible Worlds.”

In the course of the drama – the title ironically cites a phrase from Voltaire’s Candide, the Optimist – a group of mafia bosses vote to outlaw crime, and the maximum-security prison becomes a five-star hotel for visiting tourists.

Does that sound Utopian, far-fetched, optimistic?

You bet, it does!

We were inside the Maiano (Spoleto) maximum-security facility for men found guilty under the  Italian ‘anti-Mafia’ law number 356/92 of the Penal Code, which has been condemned as excessive on two occasions by the European Court of Human Rights.

To sum up, the ‘actors’ in “The Best of All Possible Worlds” (directed by Giorgio Flamini) were known members of mafia clans, who refuse to confess their crimes, or name their criminal associates. As a result they are subject to the 41-bis, which is an exceptionally strict prison regime. They are not allowed to work. They are granted no privileges. There is no remission for good behaviour. They cannot be considered for parole, and even family visits and exercise are restricted. They can make only one supervised phone-call per week in the presence of a prison-officer, etc..

(See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Article_41-bis_prison_regime for more details).

The institutional aim is to cut the prisoners off from their former friends and criminal associates. Many of these men are also classified as ‘ostativi,’ that is, they have set out to obstruct or pervert the course of Italian justice. They must serve every day of their sentences. If they have committed murder, they will die in prison unless they start naming the bosses who ordered them to kill.

As one unrepentant mafioso told us a few years ago: “The only way I can get out of here is by putting someone else in my place.”

The reality of Italian mafia organisations – Cosa Nostra from Sicily, the Camorra from Naples, the ’ndrangheta from Calabria, the Corona Unita from Puglia – is nothing like the mythical world that we have been shown on tv or in the movies. There is nothing ‘noble,’ certainly nothing ‘romantic’ about it. These men are hardened professional criminals, frequently cold-blooded murderers, who have lived by a different set of ‘laws,’ and Mafia Law Number One is unquestioning criminal obedience. They do what they are told to do by their criminal over­lords. If they disobey, they will die. If they follow orders, they’ll be richly rewarded with money, cars, boats, villas, drugs, women. But as one ‘actor’ said during the ‘performance’: “The fun lasts five minutes, then you get caught.”

And if you confess, you may be released, but the mafia will kill you…

This is a necessary prologue to the film Gomorra by Matteo Garrone which you may have seen.

It is also the prologue to a television series based on the film from the book by Roberto Saviano which you are going to see in the near future, Gomorra – The Series, twelve episodes of spectacular violence and horrendous treachery, which brilliantly recount the history of the (fictional) Savastano family clan from Naples.

I have to say, I do not like tv fiction. I find it phoney. I like tv crime fiction even less. It tends to empathise and glamorize the lives of the protagonists, whether they are cops or criminals. Well, I can promise you one thing: there is no glamour, no empathy in Gomorra – The Series. And there are no cops, either. There is not one single character that you will like. This is an inside take on how the Mafia operates, and it pulls no punches.

I am not going to spoil the series by telling you what happens, but the plot can be summed up in a sentence: when clan boss, Pietro Savastano, is imprisoned under the 41-bis law (restricted visits, no outside contacts, etc.), his wife, Imma, and his immature son, Gennaro (Genny), step up to take over the family ‘business’ in the face of serious opposition from rival Mafia clans.  

Each episode poses a central question. You could list them as follows: How much does Imma Savastano love her son? How much does she love her husband? How does a woman rule a band of killers? How does a boy become a killer? How does a killer move up in the mafia hierarchy? How does he become a boss? How does Genny Savastano fit into the hierarchy?

My favourite episode title is number 11: Cento modi da uccidere.

One hundred ways to kill...

That says it all, I think.

Gomorra – The Series was produced by Sky TV in association with Cattleya and Fandango. It was first broadcast in Italy by Sky Atlantic in twelve episodes, starting on 6th May, 2014. The series was inspired by Roberto Saviano’s book, Gomorra (2006), which won him death threats from the Camorra, the Mafia from Naples who don’t like people making Biblical jokes at their expense. The book was made into a film, Gomorra, by Italian director, Matteo Garrone, in 2008. The film didn’t win the Oscar that it deserved, but it did win the Grand Prix at the Festival of Cannes and a Golden Globe nomination.

Gomorra – The Series is directed by Stefano Solima, acclaimed director of another hard-hitting Italian tv-crime series, Romanzo Criminale, which was based on a novel by the magistrate, Giancarlo De Cataldo.

By March, 2014, two months before the first episode was broadcast, the rights to Gomorra – The Series had already been sold in more than fifty countries.

The Weinstein Company bought the rights in the United States.

Date of transmission in the USA has still to be released.

Take my advice.

Line up your favourite armchair in front of the tv, and don’t move out of it! 

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Mountains of money

date: 30 July 2014 at 09:31:03 - 0 comments

According to DataBlog (The Guardian), public spending in Italy can be broken down into a number of categories. The three most costly areas of Italian government spending are as follows:

a) pensions and welfare - €283 billion; b) health - €103 billion; c) administration - €71 billion.

All of this cash comes from taxes and long-term government investments.

But there is another sum which is worth looking at, and it amounts to €86 billion p.a..  

The figure was announced recently (09.07.2014) by the Italian national bank, Banca d’Italia, and it would rank third in the DataBlog listing, if it were included.

€86 billion is more than it costs to run the entire central and local administration of Italy, almost enough to pay the health bill for every sick person who needs a hospital, a doctor, or medicines. It would knock a quarter off the cost of the most costly pension scheme in Europe. And €86 billion is only an estimate. A reliable estimate, but probably far lower than the true figure.

€86 billion is the amount of recycled money which flows into the Italian economy every year.

€86 billion is the minimum that the Mafia – Cosa Nostra, ‘ndrangheta, Camorra, Sacra Corona Unita and all the other regional criminal organisations – earn every year from the sale of drugs and weapons, the control of prostitution, racketeering, illegal gambling, cigarette smuggling, extortion, loan-sharking and every other form of organised criminal activity.

€86 billion is the equivalent of the annual spending of a medium-sized African government, more than Holland, a lot more than Luxemburg.

The problem with ‘dirty’ money – money which is un-taxable and un-declarable – is that it doesn’t exist. It is difficult to spend it without raising suspicion. You can’t just walk into a bank and deposit a million, ten million or a hundred million euros without raising eyebrows.

So, what are you to do with ‘dirty’ money?

The answer is obvious: you have to clean it, wash it, make it appear to be respectable.

And how do you do that?

One example should suffice. We went to hear a businesswoman in a nearby town talk about her experience with the Mafia. She owned a shop selling a luxury commodity in the city centre, and the shop was in trouble. The bank’s wouldn’t lend her money – there’s a crisis, isn’t there? But then a ‘friend’ knew someone who would be able to ‘help.’

The help came, but so did the demands for repayment at extortionate rates. The woman couldn’t pay, so they raped her. She still couldn’t pay, so they raped her daughter. Then they took over the business.

Suddenly, the large shop was booming – there were huge sales, new orders, vast expansion… A paper trail. The new owners were writing the bills, inventing the orders, adjusting the accounts, and the profits were zooming up. ‘New management works,’ they claimed. They now had a respectable name, a well-established sales outlet, a local bank, and the amount of money in their account kept growing. ‘Dirty’ money flowed in with phoney paperwork to say were the cash had come from, and ‘clean’ money was then deposited in the bank for further investment, more loans to other shops and businesses that were in trouble…

It’s a never-ending cycle, and it’s worth, according to the Banca d’Italia, €86 billion per year. At least. It may be worth two, three, four or ten times as much…

Let’s face it, the Mafia is a ‘growth’ industry.

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date: 13 July 2014 at 16:22:56 - 0 comments

SPOLETO – 12th July, Piazza del Comune, 19.00

Last night as many as 200 people protested against the arrest of Michele Fabiani.

Michele’s father, Aurelio, described the events which led to his son’s arrest on Friday.

Michele and four friends were arrested for the first time on 23rd October, 2007.

They were charged with ‘criminal association to commit terrorist acts.’

None of them had ever been in trouble before, but they were arrested and imprisoned under a Terrorism Act, which meant that they were kept in isolation for up to four months – no prison privileges, no contact with other prisoners, limited hours of exercise alone in a prison yard. The boys were not allowed to speak with each other. They could only speak to their family and their lawyers.

Last night, Dario Polinari, one of the accused, spoke for the first time in public about his experience. He is no longer a suspected terrorist. The charges have been dropped, though he has received no compensation for the time that he spent in solitary confinement. He is still paying the lawyers who secured his release after four trials over the course of six years.

Now, he says, he is “afraid.” Afraid of the State. Afraid for the future.

Spoleto is my home, he says, but he can’t stay here. He is unemployable. He has no future. He is a marked man.

Dario Polinori is 28 years old…

While being interrogated as 'terrorists,' Dario and Michele admitted that they had written political slogans on a wall with a spray-gun.

Dario was in prison for one year... for writing a slogan on a wall.

Michele was sentenced to two years and four months... for writing slogans on walls and damaging the windscreen-wipers of a bulldozer. He was protesting about environmental issues.

He has been arrested to atone for these heinous crimes...

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