Italy’s “Wind King”, or the “Lord of the Wind” Vito Nicastri has been sentenced to nine years in prison for channeling profits from his wind power business to Cosa Nostra’s Matteo Messina Denaro.
The Guardian reports that Nicastri was stripped of his companies and property back in 2013 during an investigation into his ties with the Sicilian mafia. The assets that prosecutors seized were worth about $1.7 billion (1.3 billion euro).
Since then, the prosecution has established that Nicastri had “close ties to Matteo Messina Denaro” and other “high-level” contacts in the Sicilian mafia. The wind power investor was accused of using criminal money to invest in his enterprises and playing the middleman between mafia bosses and local politicians by paying bribes to get permits for the manufacturing and delivery of wind turbines. These turbines were delivered abroad to countries including Malta, Denmark, and Spain, and the profits made from these sales were channelled back into the Cosa Nostra and to Matteo Messina Denaro personally.
Denaro, who has been referred to by the media as the last Mohican of the old mafia, is living in hiding and has done so since the early 90s. According to the Palermo prosecutors, Vito Nicastri has been one of his main financial donors.
Initially, the prosecution asked for a 12-year sentence for Nicastri but the court ruled in favour of a shorter sentence.
Before his downfall, Nicastri operated as many as 43 wind and solar energy companies and had 98 properties. At the time of his arrest and asset seizure, in 2013, the BBC quoted the head of the Palermo-based anti-mafia agency, Arturo de Felice, as saying "This [wind energy] is a sector in which money can easily be laundered."
Apparently, in addition to its attraction as a legal way to make money, which is always a major consideration for criminals, wind energy is a good way of laundering dirty money. In an article on the topic of Nicastri’s arrest in 2013, Rachana Raizada wrote for Renewable Energy World that:
“Crime and corruption crept in at several levels: applications for public grant funding through different legal entities so as to get multiple grants; acquiring land concessions; acquiring operating permits and authorisations from various government bureaucracies; contracts for public tenders; and procuring infrastructure construction services from mafia-certified suppliers.”
In this environment, Nicastri’s businesses built wind farms for a price of $2.2 billion (2 million euro) per MW of capacity and enjoyed strong demand not least thanks to hefty government subsidies for wind farms once they begun operation. As a result, the criminal net expanded so much that even legitimate businesses got involved unwittingly. Naturally, when the anti-mafia forces seized Nicastri’s assets, these legitimate businesses suffered their share, losing stakes in projects they operated jointly with Nicastri’s empire.
Italy ranks tenth globally in terms of wind power capacity, with its total at 10.1 GW. Until recently, all of this capacity was onshore, with most of it in the southern parts of the country, where most of Italy’s mafia organizations originate.