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Organized crime fuels Italy's economy

ROME — Organized crime represents the biggest segment of the Italian economy, accounting for more than $127 billion in receipts, according to a report issued on Monday.

The new figure reflects a trend that has been under way for a few years, the annual report says. The figure last year was $106 billion, making it not quite the biggest segment of the economy. It also said that the line between legitimate business and criminal activity was becoming harder to discern, making it more difficult to weed out criminal elements.

The annual report is titled "SOS Businesses" and was released by the Confesercenti, an association of small businesses. The report, which analyzes the extent of criminality throughout Italian businesses, asserts that through various activities — extortion, usury, contraband, robberies, gambling and Internet piracy — organized-crime syndicates account for 7 percent of Italy's gross domestic product.

"From the weaving factories, to tourism to business and personal services, from farming to public contracts to real estate and finance the criminal presence is consolidated in every economic activity," the 86-page report said.

The report also points to a disturbing trend of collusion in which big businesses participate, especially in public works. "The businessmen prefer to make a pact with the mafia rather than denounce the blackmail," the report said. The report comes on the heels of a visit to Naples by Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday, when he condemned "deplorable" mob violence that he said had insinuated itself into everyday life.

Long considered one of Italy's most dangerous cities, Naples is home to the Camorra crime syndicate, the local version of the Sicilian Mafia.

Recent news reports have described threats to journalists in Sicily and the Campania region from organized crime families.

Usury represents the most lucrative activity engaged in by organized crime, with syndicates taking in $43 billion while racketeering brings in $14 billion, the report estimated. Illegal construction nets about $19 billion.

The businesses most afflicted by organized crime are in the south — in Sicily, Campania, Calabria and Puglia, the report found.

The report says that 80 percent of the businesses in the Sicilian cities of Catania and Palermo regularly pay protection money, known as "pizzo."