Italy’s usury racket is worth 20 bn euros


Rome : Growing number of Italian businesses are falling prey to loan sharks, raising the usury racket’s annual turnover to 20 billion euros in the country.

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Victims are paying monthly interest-rates of over 10 percent, according to the report published Tuesday by Italy’s main retailers’ association Confesercenti and anti-racket organisation Sos-Impresa.

An alarming 200,000 businessmen have ended up in the clutches of usurers and loan sharks since 2008 and 70,000 of these cases involved the mafia, according to the report.

The usury racket is most lucrative in the central Lazio region surrounding Rome, raking in 3.3 billion euros annually, followed by the southern Campania and Sicily (2.8 billion and 2.5 billion euros respectively), the report said.

Meanwhile, conservative politician Osvaldo Napoli urged Italy’s banks not to deny needy families and firms credit and to help them avoid loan sharks.

“At a time when the economy is weak, the scourge of usury is on the rise,” said Napoli, who is the ruling People of Freedom party’s deputy chief whip in the lower house of parliament.

“We strongly urge Italy’s banks and lending institutions not to cut off credit and to be aware of the dangerous trap that families and companies can otherwise fall into,” Napoli said.

In a shocking case, police in the southern city of Cosenza Tuesday arrested three suspected loan sharks who were charging an agricultural labourer a whopping 240 percent annual interest on a 6,000 euro loan.

The 55-year-old labourer, who borrowed the money in 2008 and had to pay out 7,500 euros in interest alone in the first year, was forced by his creditors to work on their land without wages.