A strip of fertile agricultural land running along the coast between Naples north to Caserta is one of Italy's most polluted regions, a 20-year end station for illegal waste-disposal rackets run by the notorious Camorra mob from Campania. Magistrate Donato Ceglie, from Santa Maria Capua Vetere near Caserta, is a leader in Italy's battle against waste trafficking and an early pioneer in the complex investigations that have cracked Mafia-led waste rackets.
In 1996 he busted a notorious criminal operation that included everything from arms and drug trafficking to illegal toxic waste dumps. The Camorra stronghold at the port of Coppolac was an entirely illegal city plying only Mafia-related trades. Now it's a ghost town port, aside from a lone family restaurant, which is a favorite haunt of Ceglie and a symbol of his successful battle.
At lunch there, Ceglie recently spoke with BusinessWeek Rome Bureau Chief Gail Edmondson and reporter Kate Carlisle, as two bodyguards joined in the meal. From the waters' edge, Ceglie pointed out seven condemned highrises contructed with building materials made from an unappetizing mix of concrete and toxic waste. The pugnacious magistrate says he returns to Coppolac often early in the morning, just to flaunt his control over the area -- to anyone who might be watching. Following are edited excerpts of their conversation:
Q: Does anyone live here?
A:No, not in these towers. They will be demolished. Now we talk about it easily, but in this zone there was a state of war. I had to send 150 police in to sequester everything. Here the Camorra came to load drugs, contraband cigarettes, contraband arms -- it was a totally illegal port operation. Every structure you can see from here is without one stitch of authoritization or license. Illegal waste and dead bodies of traitors were buried under the bridges.
Q: How much time did you need to get the area under control?
A:To sequester, little. The problem was carrying out the investigation. I asked the Prime Minister and the Interior Minister to set up an extraordinary military commission to control the zone. Until then, everything was possible here. The Camorra did as they pleased. This place was evidence that the control of the state didn't function.
Q: In the battle against the Camorra and trafficking, is the stiuation getting worse or better?
A:Several years ago there was progress against this phenomenon. There was a strong response on the part of the state, and the criminals were put in difficulty. Now that effort has slowed.
Q: What can you say about Cassiopea, your new waste-trafficking case?
A:There are 130 individuals under investigation, and we have asked for the arrest of 98. For the complete picture, I'll give you my whole report -- 1,000 pages in which I reconstruct all the illicit waste traffic.
Q: What percentage are Camorra?
Q: And the others. Are they independent?
A:The others are professional criminals and entrepreneurs whose services the Camorra has tapped.
Q: What is the status of the case?
A:I've requested a trial.
Q: A trial could begin soon, but those charged are free?
A:Yes. Even though I requested an arrest warrant, the judge said he doesn't know if he is competent or not, since the crime occurred throughout Italy and not just in his jurisdiction. For this reason, he says he is not competent. This is what the judges always say. They don't know if they are competent.
Q: Are the judges afraid or intimidated, or is it something else?
A:It's a little of everything.
Q: What do you need to be more effective? Some have proposed a structure like Italy's national AntiMafia prosecutor [to coordinate] the investigations of eco-Mafia and eco-crimes.
A:Yes. That could be an effective response to the problem. In fact, National AntiMafia Prosecutor Pier Luigi Vigna wanted to propose something like that. But believe me, today it's difficult to conduct these investigations against these individuals. You have to understand, the political climate and institutional climate has changed in Italy.
Q: When did it change?
A:Since this government [the center-right government of Silvio Berlusconi]. Believe me, it's really difficult. I don't want to exaggerate, but the government is passing a series of legislative reforms that make it impossible to conduct investigations. Impossible.
Q: Is there anyone arguing against these moves?
A:All of them [in government] are agreed to block the activities of the magistrates. Do you understand? They are all agreed. They are passing a series of laws that limit the notion of what waste is. They are redefining some waste categories as raw material. Thus, illegal trafficking is transformed into the management of a legal entrepreneurial activity. There are 1,000 ways to encourage illegal trafficking.
Q: We've heard there are individuals blocking action by the current parliamentary commission on illegal waste management. Is that true?
A:In this political climate, neither the AntiMafia Commission nor the commission on waste trafficking are functioning well.
Q: What would be the most useful tool to battle trafficking?
A:The law. Magistrates and law-enforcement officials need the legal instruments to intervene. The country needs to have more rigid controls of entrepreneurs -- plus unified and rational regulations, not the diverse and conflicting rules that we have now among regions.
Q: Can the regional agencies for environmental monitoring function better than they are now?
A:They can. But they need personnel.
Q: Where could they come from?
A:Some from other administrative functions, others from training programs. I teach environmental law, and I see a lot of young people who are motivated by the example to do something. We need a political and institutional climate that pushes. But we don't have it. In fact, the politicians and institutions do nothing.
Q: Isn't there a huge lack of public consciousness about the environment too?
A:This very morning a delegation of citizens came to me -- individuals represeneting 150 residents -- to talk about the state of environmental emergency and toxic waste. They always come to me. But at a certain point, I'm overloaded with work. It's not me who can be at the same time a magistrate, controller, repressor, adviser, manager of resolutions. Everyone has to pitch in.
They asked me to give them advice, but I can't say anything. I'm a magistrate. I'm in charge of legal controls. To answer your question, the population is conscious of the problem -- and is extremely worried. But there's no politcal response.
Q: Some say the European Union should intervene. Do you agree?
A:Brussels can't intervene on its own initiative. Many wish I would go to Rome, Milan, Brussels, and New York to talk about this problem. First, it's not physically possible. Second, if I go to conferences and seminars, the dumping increases. Traffickers are happy because I'm running around Europe making arguments, and they could care less. They are dumping waste.
Instead, one needs to stay on the ground and hit them where it hurts. Make them understand. You have to really hit them, or the problem won't go away. You have to put them in prison, sequester their property, confiscate their earnings, take their wallets out of their hands. Do you understand?
Q: Is industy guilty?
A:They are guilty and victim at the same time because the laws are so many and contradictory that they can't be understood. They are difficult to [enforce]. Many are just crooks, trying to make as much money as possible. If dumping a truck of toxic refuse costs $5,000 and they can get rid of it [through traffickers] for $500, 80% will dump it cheaply in this manner.