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Standing up to Naples' mafia

13 July 11 00:47
Alessandra Clemente
By Mark Franchetti
Reporter, This World

Their life has been blighted by Italy's bloodiest mafia, the Naples Camorra, but Alessandra Clemente and Antonio Prestieri could hardly come from more different backgrounds.

Her mother was killed by the brutal crime syndicate. His father was one of its clan bosses.

And yet the two have become unlikely friends. More striking still, they are now taking a brave stand against the Camorra, inspired by the firm conviction that it can be defeated once and for all.

Clemente, who was only 10 when her mother was killed accidentally in a shoot-out between Camorra clans, wants to become a judge taking on organised crime cases.

She also engages with convicted juvenile delinquents, including the offspring of Camorra bosses, in an attempt to talk them into abandoning their life of crime. And she volunteers at a centre which provides free legal advice to victims of racketeering.

Prestieri, whose father Tommaso is a powerful former boss now serving life for murder and drugs running, has publicly denounced the crime syndicate and has turned his back on his own family.

A talented musician and playwright, he is the only male member of the clan not to join the Camorra.

A city cursed

As well as his father, his three uncles and cousins were all die-hard Camorristi, who at the height of their power controlled the drugs business in one of Naples' most infamous districts.

"In Naples it's difficult to find people who have not been affected by the Camorra in some way or another," said 24-year-old Clemente.

"But the problem is that too many here are resigned to it. They feel that nothing can be done and that this city will always be cursed by it.

"They're wrong. I want to become a judge because that's my way of honouring my mother's memory, of saying enough, if we unite we can rid Naples of the Camorra."

"One day I can see my city without crime. I see it free," said Antonio Prestieri, who when his family's clan was at war feared for his life because of his surname.

The commitment of the two friends is admirable but they are up against a formidable enemy. Less known abroad than its Sicilian counterpart the Cosa Nostra, the Camorra is by far Italy's most brutal mafia.

The powerful crime syndicate has claimed more than 3000 lives in the past 30 years, more than any other mafia in Italy. That is an average of 100 hits a year - mainly in a city of only one million people.

Its fiefdom is not in faraway Mexico or Colombia, it is a 70-minute train ride from the Vatican, in the heart of a democracy which is a G8 member.

And yet the Camorra, which locals call "Il Sistema" (the system), has survived mass arrests - most of its biggest names are behind bars - bloody turf wars and most threatening of all in recent times, betrayal from within. Scores of pentiti, or turncoats, plea bargain by giving evidence against their own.

Going from strength to strength, the syndicate is involved in drugs trafficking, racketeering, money laundering, business, politics, public works and the illegal dumping of deadly industrial waste.

It also profits from Naples' perennial domestic rubbish crisis as it controls some of the waste truck companies and is savvy at embezzling state funds earmarked to solve the problem.

Wrong place

Alessandra Clemente was playing with a doll in her room on June 11, 1997 - the day the Camorra changed her life forever.

Silvia Ruotolo, her mother, was walking her five-year-old son Francesco from school when Camorra hit-men opened fire in the street in an attempt to kill a rival boss.

Caught in the crossfire, the 39-year-old school teacher was shot in the head and died instantly in front of her little boy.

"The terrible thing is that I remember absolutely everything about that day," said Clemente, her eyes welling up.

"I heard loud noises come from the street. I stepped out on to the balcony on the ninth floor, looked down and saw mum on the ground. I hurled myself down the stairs but as I ran out some neighbours took me into their arms to stop me."

"I'm committed to fighting the Camorra because I simply cannot accept that in today's Naples something like this can happen - a young mother is killed because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. There can be no such thing."

'Death and suffering'

Prestieri, who grew up with his mother but kept in touch with his father, rejected crime from early on, but his infamous name has haunted him all his life. He recalled how school teachers would treat him differently from other pupils because they feared his family.

After two of his uncles were gunned down by rivals and his father and surviving uncle Maurizio took over the business, Prestieri on many occasions feared that he would be gunned down by his family's enemies.

His uncle Maurizio, now also in jail, has since given evidence against his own brother to plea bargain.

Not only has Prestieri always condemned his father's life of crime, he has also rejected its proceeds.

He recalled how on his 18th birthday his father sent one of his men with a gold wrist watch as a present. The young man unceremoniously sent it back with a curt note.

"The Camorra only sows death and suffering," said Prestieri. "It's blighted this city. Friends have often suggested I change my surname to free myself of the burden it's been. But that would be cowardly. I want to cleanse it so that future generations can carry it with pride.

"Naples, too, can be cleansed of the Camorra, I have no doubts. Without this curse it would be the most beautiful city in the world."

This World: Italy's Bloodiest Mafia will be broadcast on Wednesday 13 July on BBC Two at 2100 BST or watch online (UK only) for 7 days afterwards via iPlayer at the above link.

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