The Italian mafia may have teamed up with the Islamic State to smuggle crude oil from the Middle East into Italy, an ongoing police investigation has suggested, according to The Times who cited a report by La Repubblica.
The Italian daily noted that the police had found substantial amounts of Libyan and Syrian crude that were greater than some local refineries’ inventories, with sources connected with the investigation saying that crude, “should not have been there.”
Yet the police have no evidence that the oil came from IS, or whether it came from another non-extremist group of traffickers, because the cargoes passed through intermediaries, which helped the original senders mask their tracks.
The way the mafia smuggles oil into Italy is by setting up shale companies abroad that act as oil exporters. They sell crude directly to gas station operators at much lower prices, and then close the shell companies. The mafia uses the scheme to avoid VAT payments and to launder money.
The logistics involve tankers rendezvousing with smaller vessels out of Turkey and Libya in the middle of the Mediterranean.
The smugglers transfer the oil from the smaller vessels to the larger ones, and then return the small vessels to their country of origin while the bigger tankers set sail for the southern Italian ports.
It seems that the IS-mafia hypothesis has emerged because of the terrorist group’s heavy reliance on revenues from oil contraband, but recently IS has lost most of the territories it controlled in Syria and Iraq, so its access to oil to smuggle has also declined sharply.
Experts who spoke to La Repubblica were skeptical of such a connection, but last month, journalist Francesca Astorri reported on a propaganda e-book titled Black Flags from Rome, in which the Islamic State said support from the mafia was crucial for its penetration in Italy.
The question remains whether the two organizations are rivals or partners. Their revenue-generating activities are similar, including drug trafficking, goods smuggling, and kidnappings, but the mafia would hardly be well-disposed to a group that essentially wants to encroach on its territory.