The scope of organised crime in Switzerland


Institutional Communication Service

30 June 2022

The Federal Council recently acknowledged that the presence and activities of mafia-type organisations in Switzerland have been underestimated in recent years and that there are, in fact, mafia infiltrations throughout the country and cannot be limited to a specific region. But what is organised crime in Switzerland? We asked Annamaria Astrologo, Academic Director of the Ticino Observatory on Organised Crime at USI.


Is it accurate to talk about the mafia in Switzerland?

The presence of the mafia in Switzerland is, unfortunately, a fact. Recently (1 September 2021), the Federal Council, following an interpellation, acknowledged that in recent years the presence and activities of mafia-type organisations in Switzerland had been underestimated and that there are, in fact, mafia infiltrations throughout the country and cannot be limited to a specific region. Furthermore, the Italian judicial authorities have also confirmed that most investigations in northern Italy for mafia-related crime have their roots in Switzerland.


How deep-rooted is organised crime in Switzerland?

Since this is a particularly devious criminal phenomenon that makes lack of transparency one of its key characteristics, and since the ongoing investigations are covered by secrecy, there are no certain data.

Nevertheless, Fedpol Director Nicoletta della Valle, in May 2021, at the inauguration of the Ticino Observatory on Organised Crime (O-Tico) based at the USI Law Institute, presented a map of Switzerland with an overview of places with established mafia activities and the basis of the knowledge made available at the federal level, it became clear there that mafia infiltration, unfortunately, affects the whole of Switzerland.

The criminal organisation with the most significant presence in Switzerland is the 'ndrangheta. Alessandra Cerreti (Public Prosecutor at the Anti-Mafia District Directorate in Milan), who recently spoke at a conference organised at USI by O-TiCO, confirmed that the 'ndrangheta is the world leader in the cocaine market and, as an economic powerhouse, has to look for ways to invest its illegal proceeds: this is why it also concerns and infiltrates the economic sector in Switzerland.


What tools does our country have to fight organised crime? Are they effective?

In Switzerland, Article 260 ter of the Criminal Code is aimed at punishing criminal and terrorist organisations.
The amendment of this provision in July 2021 goes precisely in the direction of making it more effective in fighting this phenomenon.

For example, the new text of the article has changed the sanction: in the previous version, there was a sentence of up to five years. Currently, there is a prison sentence of up to 10 years (and for those who exercise a decisive influence within the organisation, the prison sentence is from three to twenty years).
On the other hand, I believe that organised crime can not be defeated by strictly legal means alone. In this area (as in others related, such as corruption), I think much can be done regarding education to legality.

For this latter aspect, the Ticino Observatory on Organised Crime plays an important role.


In what sense? What can the Ticino Observatory on Organised crime do in terms of education on legality?

One of the objectives of the observatory, in addition to initiating research projects on the subject, is precisely that of disseminating knowledge. The birth and growth of this centre of expertise is also aimed at organising conferences open to the public, seminars, and in-depth studies on topics focusing on the fight against corruption and organised crime. All this makes it possible to increase attention to these phenomena and to raise public awareness. 


Next steps?

The Observatory is just over a year old, and the balance is very positive. As the academic head of this study centre, I am pleased. We have included in-depth studies on this topic in our Bachelor's and Master's degree law courses at USI and have followed degree dissertations from our University. Students from other universities (in Switzerland and abroad) have also requested collaboration with our Observatory for research projects. In addition, we are consolidating important relations with cantonal and federal authorities because, in the context of the University's third mandate, it is important for the Observatory to qualify as a centre of expertise with a central role "on" and "for" the territory.

We will also soon finalise a collaboration with a foreign centre of excellence in this field. Therefore, the next objective is to build a research project that will enable the Observatory to acquire funding and dialogue with other partners in this field.

The fight against organised crime is a topic of great social interest, but it is also one in which in-depth study through the rigour of scientific research is essential. In terms of criminal justice, it is necessary, for example, to understand the operational difficulties in the practical application of existing provisions, the problems involved in interpreting them, and the issues that may arise in the international cooperation of judicial authorities in the fight against organised crime.