IT IS a villa worthy of a Mafia don, a fortress behind tall walls and ominous iron gates, guarded by state-of-the-art CCTV, luxurious, defensive and secretive.

The difference is that while the house in Via Toti in the southern Italian town of San Cipriano is owned by one of the camorra’s most feared bosses, Antonio Iovine – its tenants have long been American NATO officials.

And it seems that the camorra has rented many illegally gained properties to US forces.

An investigation by the Neapolitan anti-Mafia prefecture – published in the Corriere Della Sera newspaper – has revealed the preposterous, but frighteningly Italian scenario, that has seen government funding earmarked to support NATO ending up in the pockets of Italy’s most violent criminal organisation.

Authorities fear that this villa, owned by a Casalese clan boss who is one of Italy’s most wanted and has been on the run from authorities for more than a decade, is just one of scores of properties that have been leased for years to US personnel posted to the US telecommunications centre in Bagnoli and the US Airforce base near Capodichino airport in Naples.

The villa at No. 10 has been traced directly to Iovine, 44, known as "o’ninno" (little one) because of his stature. He apparently bought the villa for his mother in 1986 and while it is registered in her name, the camorra’s audacious ability to cover its tracks and launder money has so far stopped investigators from collecting enough evidence to prove that it was bought with dirty money.

Franco Roberti, the head of the Naples’ anti-Mafia prefecture, described the find as "paradoxical": "Absurd isn’t it? Italy contributes to NATO and they are helping fill the coffers of the camorra."

Roberti’s specialist investigators have spent more than a decade attempting to unravel the complex property portfolios of the Casalese clan. This year, the Italian courts meted out 16 life sentences and jailed 36 members of the Casalese families. Their network is said to be worth hundreds of millions of euros, administering a global empire of illegal businesses that reach beyond Italy into eastern and western Europe.

It includes drugs and arms trafficking, illegal waste disposal and prostitution. Many, like Iovine, remain on the run while last month, a henchman of another boss, Giuseppe Setola, is believed to have orchestrated a shocking outbreak of bloodshed in Naples which included the gunning down of six young black African workers. The attack prompted the deployment of hundreds of troops to restore a semblance of order.

According to investigators, work by the anti-Mafia prefecture and local carabinieri over the past 12 months uncovered property assets worth more than €100 million ($187 million) which have been traced to another arm of the camorra network, the Bianco Corvino clan.

These properties were bought with the proceeds of a series of car insurance frauds by the clan and when they were seized by the state, it was found that at least 40 of these had long-term leases with NATO.

The lessees now pay the Italian Government rent.

Colonel Carmelo Burgio, a former commander of Carabinieri in Nassiriya and head of the 1300 officers who worked on the investigations, told Corriere Della Sera that there are probably "hundreds more".

"We need to understand who the intermediaries between the camorra and the Americans are," said Raffaele Cantone, a magistrate from Cassazione.

"Antonio Iovine, with Michele Zagaria and Schiavone are commanders of the Casalese camorra. They have become rich with the rentals gained from NATO," he said.

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