Mafias on the Move: How Organized Crime Conquers New Territories

Mafias on the Move: How Organized Crime Conquers New Territories

Mafias on the Move: How Organized Crime Conquers New Territories

Mafias on the Move: How Organized Crime Conquers New Territories


Organized crime is spreading like a global virus as mobs take advantage of open borders to establish local franchises at will. That at least is the fear, inspired by stories of Russian mobsters in New York, Chinese triads in London, and Italian mafias throughout the West.

As Federico Varese explains in this compelling and daring book, the truth is more complicated. Varese has spent years researching mafia groups in Italy, Russia, the United States, and China, and argues that mafiosi often find themselves abroad against their will, rather than through a strategic plan to colonize new territories. Once there, they do not always succeed in establishing themselves. Varese spells out the conditions that lead to their long-term success, namely sudden market expansion that is neither exploited by local rivals nor blocked by authorities. Ultimately the inability of the state to govern economic transformations gives mafias their opportunity.

In a series of matched comparisons, Varese charts the attempts of the Calabrese 'Ndrangheta to move to the north of Italy, and shows how the Sicilian mafia expanded to early twentieth-century New York, but failed around the same time to find a niche in Argentina. He explains why the Russian mafia failed to penetrate Rome but succeeded in Hungary. In a pioneering chapter on China, he examines the challenges that triads from Taiwan and Hong Kong find in branching out to the mainland. Based on ground-breaking field work and filled with dramatic stories, this book is both a compelling read and a sober assessment of the risks posed by globalization and immigration for the spread of mafias.


On September 11, 1996, Boris Sergeev, the director of an import-export company based in Rome and father of two, a stocky man in his late forties, arrived in Moscow to finalize a valuable contract for the importation of frozen meat. The Russian partners were Agroprom, a giant Soviet agricultural concern that was now in private hands, and two prominent banks, the Nuovo Banco Ambrosiano and Promstroybank. The former had a somewhat bumpy history—its CEO Roberto Calvi was found hanging from beneath Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1982—but was now under new management and aggressively trying to enter the Russian market. Promstroybank of Saint Petersburg was a safe bet—formerly the largest state bank in the Soviet Union and now a joint-stock company. Even Vladimir Putin once sat on its board. Some twenty million U.S. dollars were at stake. Sergeev had several meetings with top officials at both banks and the Ministry of Agriculture. His most valued contact in the political world was a Soviet-era politician who had taken part in the coup that tried to oust Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991 and was now a lobbyist for agro-industrial interests.

By the end of the week, Boris had secured the funding and felt confi dent. Despite fears voiced by his family before the trip, nothing bad had happened. He could relax and spend the last few nights in his native city in style. He took a suite at an upscale hotel located on the central Tverskaya Ulitsa, the street a few yards from Red Square that runs northwest from the Manege toward Saint Petersburg. On the night of September 23, he was sipping predinner drinks at the bar on the fourth floor when two men entered . . .

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