“How did my war against the mafia begin?”
We publish below the full talk that the journalist Federica Angeli, legal affairs correspondent of the newspaper “La Repubblica” gave on the 6 November 2018, at the Italian Institute of Culture in Brussels at the presentation by journalists threatened in Belgium, France and Italy promoted by Ossigeno
My name is Federica Angeli and I am a journalist writing on crime and legal matters. I have been working for La Repubblica for over 20 years. My concept of journalism is working in the field, “wearing-out shoe leather” is an expression that characterises me. Going into the field means breathing the environment, the mood, the fears, the truth directly from the street, without any intermediary.
Precisely for this reason I have conducted in the course of my career several investigations always in my area, that of organized crime. Hence I spent months in contact with a group that trained pit bulls in order to have clandestine dog-fights, or I infiltrated for nine months a group of people from Eastern Europe to describe arms trafficking in Rome, where the arms came from, where they were kept and re-sold to the various Italian organizations.
In 2013 I decided to conduct an investigation in Ostia, a district of Rome, the seaside of the capital of Italy. Ostia is also the neighborhood where I was born and raised. What I wanted to show with my work was that the clans that operated in that area were mafia and not “simple” criminals.
Thus, with the Italian criminal code in hand, I read the article 416bis (this is just as pronounced, it doesn’t have a name) to see if all the assumptions that underpin it reflected those that were the modes of action.
Control of a territory, the force of intimidation, the capacity to permeate the economic fabric, the silence of witnesses (omertà) and influencing administrative and political life are precisely the characteristics mentioned in Article 416bis.
There were three criminal families that ruled at Ostia: the Fasciani (the most powerful of all), the Triassi, the Mafia of Agrigento, and the Spada, a ruthless group of nomadic Romani origin. Unfortunately for many years these families have either been ignored, or underestimated or even helped, so they have become powerful and mafia-style.
When I started working in the field in 2013 I started from a phone tap that takes place in the office of the highest administrative official in Ostia. Armando Spada asks him to give his family the kiosk of two defendants who had killed them two years ago. The official granted his request and, working in the field, I find out that he did not give the Spada family that kiosk but the most beautiful beach pavilion in Ostia, the “Orsa Maggiore” that had belonged to a respectable family for 30 years. The beach pavilion was taken away from this family
within a week. When I went with the video-camera to the beach pavilion to confront the boss, I was threatened with death and kept captive in a room. Armando Spada told me that he would kill me and my children if I published what I had discovered.
From that day my war against the mafia began. My life became more complicated and I was put under guard a month and a half later when I accidentally witnessed a shootout that took place under my house between the Triassi clan and the Spada clan. I went to make the photographic identification of the people I had seen under my house and the police called me six hours later saying that my life was in danger.
The difficulty I encountered was not only linked to the threats and intimidation of the mafia families (for example, the petrol under the door of my house, the car of my sister and my lawyer set on fire, a bullet, threats written on Facebook) but also that the so-called civil society did not believe what I had discovered. For many years the existence of a mafia that spoke with a Roman accent was denied: the mafia existed only in southern Italy. Think about it: the Roman mafia today does not have a name, in Calabria it is called ‘ndrangheta, in Campania it is the Camorra. In Rome it has no name. So there was never even a sentence of the magistrates that acknowledged the existence of a Roman mafia, never. Even in my newspaper they did not believe the situation for me was so dangerous.
In the beginning, and for a long time after, I was completely alone. Only Alberto Spampinato from Ossigeno took my story to heart and started to stay close to me, to show that someone who did not underestimate the situation was there.
Having the police escort in Italy creates so much isolation. Investigations in the field, think of being able to still infiltrate to discover the reality, is impossible for me today and many people consider the police escort a privilege and not the loss of my freedom.
In addition to the threats, many journalists, including me, are also subject to another tool through which they try to gag: the lawsuit with the claim for damages of millions of euros.
Doing this job in an upright way is now very difficult in Italy. The powerful and the mafia try to intimidate us and take away the desire to discover the truth. Unfortunately for them there are those, like me, who believe that the job of journalists is to tell the truth even at the cost of being alone and isolated. Because truth is the first rule of democracy. And we cannot allow anyone to tell us what to write and to tell lies in order to carry on with their dirty businesses.
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