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Italian money laundering reports hit an all-time high

An unidentified person, center, is one of the 51 people arrested for organized crime in Ostia, Rome.Photograph by Andreas Solaro — AFP/Getty Images

Reports of suspicious bank transactions in Italy jumped 10 percent to a record high last year as the pervasive problems of organized crime, corruption and tax evasion were exacerbated by a three-year economic slump, the central bank said on Monday.

The financial downturn had given cash-rich mafia groups the opportunity to tighten their grip on the economy as, with banks reducing lending, the criminal networks boosted their investments in the real economy, investigators have said.

“The main threat in terms of scope and pervasiveness comes from organized crime, both in its traditional form and in its more recent manifestations,” the report said, referring to the stronger links between organized crime and corruption.

A case that highlighted those tighter links surfaced last year in Rome and saw dozens of people arrested.

And last year there were other high-profile corruption scandals surrounding the award of public contracts for the Milan Expo and the Venice flood barrier corporation.

“Corruption is an extremely worrying threat for our socio-economic system. The diffuse perception of the phenomenon undermines citizens’ confidence in institutions and in politics,” the Bank of Italy’s Financial Intelligence Unit said in an annual bulletin sent to parliament.

While the number of reports — up at 71,700 in 2014 from the previous year — was due to closer scrutiny by bank personnel, the report also said money laundering poses a “very significant” threat to Italy’s economy, the euro zone’s third-largest.

Mafia groups such as Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, the Camorra around Naples, or the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta have long had a stranglehold on swathes of the south, and recent investigations have documented their spread north to Rome, Bologna and Milan.

For more, read Fortune 5: The biggest organized crime groups in the world.