Assets worth 150 million euro including the daily newspapers La Sicilia and Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno, two TV stations and a print works, were all seized by the judicial commissioners.
On Monday 24th September in Catania, upon the request from the district anti-Mafia directorate the court impounded the publishing empire of 82 year old Mario Ciancio Sanfilippo, journalist, chief editor of the biggest circulation daily in Sicily, (La Sicilia,of which he is owner), the most important publisher in the Italian South, with interests and publications also in Puglia and Calabria. He is on trial with the charge of associating with the Mafia as an outsider. The assets seized are considered to have been illicitly obtained. Mario Ciancio Sanfilippo was sent for trial in 2017. In 2015 the investigating magistrate had acquitted the accused. The trial resumed after the Supreme Court had annulled the acquittal.
The seizure of the 24th September 2018 covered also relatives of Mr Ciancio. The assets blocked and destined to be confiscated have a value of approximately 150 million euro. This seizure adds to the other seizure of 17 million euro carried out in June 2015: 12 million in shares and bonds in a Swiss bank plus 5 million in cash in a bank in Catania.
The new seizure carried out by the special operations division (ROS) and by the provincial command of the Catania police has created serious concerns among the journalist staff who work for the publications impounded. The journalist trade unions have also mobilised to defend their jobs. The Hon. Claudio Fava has proposed that the impounded publications are entrusted to the Sicilian journalists who have opposed the Mafia and have been subject to intimidations, threats and reprisals.
In essence, the magistracy has impounded the entire Ciancio publishing group which includes 100% of the daily, La Sicilia of Catania, the daily Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno of Bari of which it is the majority shareholder, two regional Sicilian tv stations, “Antenna Sicilia” and “Telecolor”, the Etis print works of Catania where numerous Sicilian and national newspapers are printed and Simeto Docks an agency for publicity and billboards. The court has entrusted the management of these companies to judicial commissioners charged with ensuring the continuity of activity.
After the seizure, Ciancio resigned as chief editor of the daily “La Sicilia” and has protested his innocence maintaining as he always has, that the seizure of the assets and the imputations are the fruit of a misunderstanding which will be clarified.
It is the first time in Italy that the magistracy seizes, because of its illicit origins, editorial activities of publishers accused of connivance with the Mafia. The national anti-Mafia prosecutor Federico Cafiero de Raho in an interview to Il Sole 24 Ore affirmed that ” this seizure has opened up a new route for investigating in depth a whole pile of suspects. Investing in publishing, for the Mafia means – he added – shaping information. Intervening is fundamental so that the press can continue to be free.”
In illustrating the measure to journalists, the magistrates cited “two significant episodes” in the relationship between the publisher Mario Ciancio Sanfilippo and Cosa Nostra. In 1982 a journalist on the editorial staff of “La Sicilia” was admonished in the presence of the Mafia boss Giuseppe Ercolano for having defined him “ a well-known Mafia boss” in several articles. Ercolano, the magistrates underlined, was “a well-known and recognised member of Cosa Nostra in Catania.”