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ROME (Reuters) - Italy's worst economic crisis since World War Two has been a boon to the country's mafia organizations with reports of suspicious bank transactions rocketing, the Bank of Italy said on Wednesday.
Reports of suspected money laundering through financial institutions rose 147 percent in 2010-11 from the previous two years "and they are still on the rise," Anna Maria Tarantola, deputy director at the central bank, said in testimony to parliament.
About 800 of the total reports involved people arrested or under investigation for mafia activities, she added. A quarter of those were reported in northern Italy, outside of the territories historically controlled by the mafia, she said.
Organized crime groups such as Sicily's Cosa Nostra, the Camorra around Naples, or the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta have long had a stranglehold on the Italian economy.
But their grip has tightened during the current economic slump as banks reduced lending and the criminal networks, flush with cash, boosted their investments in the real economy.
"Money laundering is anti-cyclical, and so it increases in times of crisis," Tarantola said.
Organized crime generated annual turnover in 2011 of about 140 billion euros, or about 7 percent of annual gross domestic product, a January report from anti-crime group SOS Impresa said.
The mob had 65 million euros in cash on hand, making it the nation's No. 1 bank, the group estimated.
Reports of dragnets against mob groups are an almost daily occurrence in Italy.
Naples police on Wednesday announced 47 arrests for various mafia crimes including extortion in a probe that uncovered an unusual alliance between former rival clans, and they sequestered businesses and properties in six regions of Italy, including the north.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer. Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)
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