The small Sicilian town that is home to Europe’s most wanted mobster has a record €42 million in unpaid taxes after the mafia-infiltrated administration turned a blind eye to years of outstanding bills, Italian authorities have discovered.
For five years, 65 per cent of Castelvetrano’s residents never paid their taxes. But still, life plodded on normally in this quiet corner of Sicily’s wild western interior, near Trapani.
In the heartland of Cosa Nostra where Italy’s most notorious mobster is believed to be hiding out, residents ran a bigger risk not paying the "pizzo" mafia protection money than not paying their tax bill, the latter rarely carrying any consequences.
In fact, the mafia had so thoroughly infiltrated city management of bids, permits and administrative tasks that Italy’s president issued a decree last summer to dissolve the entire Castelvetrano city administration and appoint a special commission to clean house.
An Interior Ministry accounting review found €42 million in taxes missing, earning Castelvetrano the new record for the largest municipal debt in Italy.
The review found that from 2012-2017, Castelvetrano received €32 million from the state, which city administrators used for investments, loans, expenses, and outsourcing city services. However, city revenues showed 65 percent of tax bills sent out to residents had never been paid, leaving a €42 million shortfall.
For five years, tax notices went unpaid, either being returned to sender, or because residents claimed “no longer at this address,” or because they simply ignored the bills. City officials turned a blind eye, knowing the cases would expire after five years under the statute of limitations.
The city’s thorny relationship with the state is an ongoing battle. For more than two decades, Europe’s most shadowy mafia fugitive – Matteo Messina Denaro – has been hiding in the countryside around Castelvetrano, aided by a network of clans and conspirators.
Wanted in connection with multiple murders and mafia crimes, the 55-year-old mob boss was last seen publicly in 1993.
Police regularly search and seize homes in the area looking for clues to his whereabouts.
But Messina Denaro has always eluded capture, mysteriously disappearing into thin air, a bit like his hometown’s public monies.
“It seems a tranquil little city, but ever since I have been here the thing that most characterizes this city is its silence,” said Salvatore Caccamo, the Interior Ministry official heading up special commission to clean up the city. “There is no reaction. . . . but of course we know that many of the most powerful elements are able to mobilise in an underground way, completely hidden.”
“Partly it is just the culture here – it is very hard to get people to pay taxes. They don’t pay . . . but yet they expect services,” said Mr Caccamo, whose commission must now try to collect on 1,400 outstanding cases in a town where everybody knows everybody, but nobody claims to knows anything.
City services, in fact, were never interrupted in Castelvetrano.
The private companies who won bids to provide services regularly performed their duties, although they too, it turns out, owed vast back taxes.
The company that installed the water treatment plant, owes €1.7 million. The company that updated the network of public lighting owes €1.8 million, while the waste removal owes €700,000.
Wind farms, photovoltaic stations and a number of business entities known to be associated with Messina Denaro also never paid their taxes.
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