In response to a recent blog, Stevie B. posed a question to me: “Has Liverpool become the British Naples?” It is a difficult one to answer, particularly if one was ignorant of the appalling level of corruption within that particular Italian city and its hinterland. That area, known as Campania, is wholly dominated by the Camorra, one of four regionally based criminal organisations which have bedevilled southern Italy (the other four are the Mafia in Sicily; the ’Ndrangheta in Calabria; and the Sacra Corona Unita in Puglia).
I took the opportunity to reread “Gomorrah”, written by Campania local Roberto Saviano. It is a brilliant and disturbing account of what happens when criminality has a grip on the council chamber, the boardroom, and the street. The whole spectrum of public and private morality becomes distorted to a degree where for so many, wrong becomes right so long as it brings in money for those profiting in such circumstances. I recommend Saviano’s real life account to anyone who is interested in the almost apocalyptic situation where ethics and morality are distorted at such terrible human cost in the pursuit of money.
Towards the end of his book, Saviano devotes a chapter to the successful years spent in Aberdeen (of all places!) by leading Camorra compare (godfather) Antonio La Torre, and his business empire. Now, you may say that this is all very interesting but irrelevant to the troubles of Liverpool. Think again! Students of our home grown criminal elite will be well aware of the international dimension to their activities. Indeed, until relatively recently, the Home Office recognised, by way of a Merseyside Police special funding allocation, the fact that uniquely, outside of London, Liverpool was the British city with the most extensive organised crime dimension, both home and abroad. Curtis “Cocky” Warren sourced his cocaine imports from Colombia via Venezuela; John Haase’s importation of heroin came from Afghanistan via Turkey. Ask yourself why, today, a veritable army of Liverpool criminals have bases in Amsterdam, Marbella and Dubai.
The reality is, and has been for a very long time, that crime knows no borders. On the contrary, it is most productive with the help of foreign organised gangs. They may well provide Class “A” drugs or contraband cigarettes, or involve themselves in people smuggling. On the other hand, they have been quick to exploit the rapidly growing area of white collar crime, providing money for dodgy development deals as they launder illegal money offshore, all behind a facade of legitimate business. Hence, Signor La Torre’s successful sojourn in Aberdeen. That image of business propriety is a valuable asset in the modern criminal’s armoury. They are all company directors now.
Naturally, this is where regular business and politics come in. Criminals seek businessmen who will accept their investments with no questions asked. Too many fall into that trap. Criminals have also learnt to set up their own bogus companies, an area where the law is notoriously weak. This option cuts out the inconvenience of regular business partners, although in many instances, regular businesses can be turned into additional income streams whereby both clients and sub-contractors can be ripped off.
In our own city, like Naples, the role of politicians appears to be two-fold. Firstly, we have our own code of omerta. Questions which should be uppermost in the minds of politicians are simply not asked. Those that are, are simply ignored. Local media is silent on the substance of corruption. Therein lies the death of the concept of due diligence. Secondly, that most precious resource – land – lies within the gift of politicians. It may take the form of preferential sales (or gifts) of publicly owned land, or it may be an accommodating planning regime which fails in its duties to the people of the city. One marker I should put down here. I personally know of two former chairs of planning in Liverpool who got out of the job and out of politics, due to the threats and intimidation which they received from well known local crime families. Indeed, one left town altogether as did a well respected former “Echo” crime reporter. It is to prevent such outrages that we desperately need to see criminal prosecutions and convictions of those responsible for the current round of corruption. We might then truly turn things around in this once great city.
Is Liverpool Britain’s Naples? We share many characteristics, both positive and negative, but not yet to the degree which has blighted this former Italian jewel. Although there are violent men involved in our own criminal demi-monde, there is nothing to quite match the ruthless brutality of the Camorra. Can we go that way? I do not think so as things stand – I like to believe that the average Scouser is far too savvy to tolerate the degree of violence commonplace on the streets of Naples and Campania… but I could be wrong.