The fight against organised crime in Switzerland needs awareness


Institutional Communication Service

10 July 2023

A few years ago, the Federal Council admitted that in recent decades it had underestimated the infiltration of Italian mafias into the Swiss economy and even within the administrative bodies. Fedpol is trying to tackle the problem but remains very discreet about all criminal organisations active in our territory. The lack of awareness of the scale of the problem is an obstacle in the fight against organised crime today. These are the words of Annamaria Astrologo, Professor at the Faculty of Economics at Università della Svizzera italiana and academic head of the Ticino Observatory on Organised Crime - among the experts interviewed by Le Matin Dimanche

During a course at the École des sciences criminelles de Lausanne, Professor Astrologo explained to her students that "the most important thing is to change the culture in Switzerland. Judges and prosecutors must also be better informed and more aware of these issues". In particular, reference is made to the number of cases that ended in a deadlock despite lengthy investigations. On several occasions, for example, the judges have ruled that the defendants, who were supporters of Italian organised crime syndicates, were not 'aware' of their actions. This indifference undoubtedly stems from the level of discretion of which criminal organisations are capable. In this matter, failure to investigate runs the risk of remaining blind and deaf. Often it seems that these groups do not even exist. "The police cannot do everything," explains Stefano Caneppele, deputy director of the École Suisse des sciences criminelles de l'UNIL, where criminal cases are studied. "The police manage security according to the population's priorities. In a relatively quiet environment, compared to the rest of Europe, security concerns are particularly related to the problems encountered on the streets, such as incivility, drug dealing, robberies, etc."

Even at a political level, many parliamentarians confuse criminal organisations with terrorism. These topics are very rarely discussed in Berne. Dick Marty, a former public prosecutor and member of parliament from Ticino, says: "I fear that politicians only have a superficial knowledge of it, and sometimes I suspect that they don't want to know so as not to upset the banks and luxury hotels!"

"We have identified a hundred or so cases in Switzerland involving mafia members and are compiling them in an archive because we lack an insight into the mafia phenomenon in the country also because of the federally organised police force", explains Francesco Lepori, journalist and co-responsible for the Ticino Observatory on Organised Crime. The federal government is responsible when the group is recognised as a criminal organisation. In other words, before a group of individuals is identified as belonging to a criminal organisation, the cantonal authorities are responsible for the individual crimes committed. This creates the need for constant coordination between institutions at cantonal and federal level. There are also many cases in which it is not possible to prove the existence of a criminal organisation despite having indications of its existence. That is why Fedpol does not have a complete picture of these organisations.

To carry out their business, criminal organisations often benefit from assistance in Switzerland. "There are facilitators who help, for example, to obtain residence permits, or to make investments," explains Francesco Lepori. This also applies to civil servants, as in a case in Valais involving managers of the Federal Roads Office. Or the case of the conviction of a federal employee in 2007 who illegally issued identity documents to Kosovo Albanians.