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Managing finances in the illicit tobacco trade in Italy


Every organized crime activity needs financing and has financial aspects. Engaging in organized crime activities requires financial resources and every crime has financial layouts (as for example prices, costs to enter a given criminal market, investment) that do necessarily consist in the laundering of criminal asset. Despite this, and apart from cases of terrorism and drugs, nowadays little is known about the mechanisms of financing that sustain organized crime activities which are crime-specific and site-specific. Drawing on a set of diverse empirical data, including interviews with police officers, customs officials and prosecutors, the article provides insights into the financial management of the illicit tobacco trade in Italy. The study is aimed both at increasing the knowledge on the financing mechanisms of organized crime activities by using the illicit tobacco business in Italy as a case study, and at deepening the knowledge on the structure of this illicit trade at the national level. The findings suggest new approaches to research and investigate organized crime activities and criminal finances.

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  1. The reference is respectively to the “Operation Primavera” through which the heavy cigarettes contraband from Montenegro to the region of Apulia involving Sacra Corona Unita clans and Serbian-Montenegrin smugglers was dismantled (La Repubblica 2000), and the introduction of tougher punishments for cigarettes contraband within the national legislation (i.e. Article 291 quarter of the Presidential Decree 43/1973 (expert 1, Guardia di Finanza).

  2. This figure (last year available 2012) was provided by the Customs and Monopolies Agency, National Anti-Fraud and Control Directorate – Intelligence Unit for the purpose of the study.

  3. In regard to Italian organized crime groups involved in the illicit tobacco trade (see also Calderoni 2014; Calderoni et al. 2013).

  4. The formation of large networks is illustrated by an investigation case reported by one of the interviewed experts and by local media (see Trentino Corriere Alpi 2015).


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The authors would like to thank all the experts interviewed for their precious support and relevant information offered during the study. A special thank goes to Denise Boriero who collaborated to the FINOCA study/report in the data gathering phase and in the first analysis of the interviews’ results on the financial management. Authors are also indebted to all the participants of the study and to Georgios Antonopoulos and Atanas Rusev for their early comments and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Andrea Di Nicola.

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Project FINOCA was funded by the European Commission (HOME/2011/ISEC/AG/4,000,002,566) and coordinated by the Center for the Study of Democracy (Bulgaria) in partnership with eCrime, the research group on ICT, law and criminology – University of Trento (Italy), Teesside University (UK). The project was carried out in close collaboration with the State Agency National Security in Bulgaria, the State Police of Latvia and the French National Institute for Advanced Studies in Security and Justice. Contributions from the study has been published in other academic journals (see Antonopoulos and Hall 2015).

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of interest

Author Andrea Di Nicola declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Author Fiamma Terenghi declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Although this article is the result of the joint effort of the authors, authorship can be attributed as follows. Andrea Di Nicola: Introduction, Methodology and sources, Overview of the illicit tobacco market in Italy, Market structure and actors (but not Retail level), Discussion. Fiamma Terenghi: Retail Level, Financial management of the illicit tobacco trade.

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Di Nicola, A., Terenghi, F. Managing finances in the illicit tobacco trade in Italy. Trends Organ Crim 19, 254–272 (2016).

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  • Organized crime activities
  • Illicit tobacco trade
  • Financial management
  • Criminal finances