Video Transcript

Dr Anna Sergi - Corruption Prevention and Integrity Conference 2017 keynote address

Thank you. This is probably the biggest stage I've ever been on, so I'll try and not move. I usually walk. I'm a lecturer so I have to keep my students very aware of my presence but I'll try and not move too much today.

Just bear with me for a few moments while I try and give you my theoretical understanding of what we are trying to do here today. My role here is to discuss some of the cases that I've been looking at – especially between Italy and the United States – when it comes to organised crime groups and corruption. But you'll see very soon my approach to this is very much without the ‘and’ – so there is no organised crime ‘and’ corruption, it's one and the same.

In order to understand, what we're talking about when we discuss organised crime and corruption, we have to look at how we understand corruption in the first place. And obviously we all have different approaches depending what is our goal but, generally speaking, we can understand corruption from an economic perspective.

It's a rational choice of someone – either individual or group – to take a bribe or to go and choose a different privileged path to reach certain results, so it's based on opportunity. And you have the opportunity to do it – no one is actually … there is lack of guardianship. Therefore, you do the usual rational thinking approach and you take the opportunity.

This has to do with structural weaknesses of the system, which we will discuss later on with the cases, but it might have to do with socio-cultural approaches, social-cultural values. So ethical shortcomings and personal weaknesses. But, more importantly, what is relevant for my study is to understand how the corruption networks develop and this has to do mostly with external factors.

Most of the time corruption is what corruption is called. This is a problem because we don't actually have clear understanding. Because, at the end of the day, we are talking about something that for many people is very personal, very ethical – the ethical boundaries.

When it comes to organised crime, again, we would need probably 700 hours to agree what organised crime actually means. For the purposes of this talk, I grade organised crime in different ways and I want to start by saying that, when we talk about organised crime, we are talking about structural weaknesses of the system again.

The system is prone to the aggregation of people who together conspire to commit long-term criminal plans. But sometimes – and it is very much the case of mafia crimes – there are certain groupings, which together are committing crimes. They actually commit crimes thanks to the twisting of specific cultural values. Most of the time these are ethnic values, which is the reason why we still talk about the Calabrian Mafia and not just the Mafia, in this case.

Organised crime is not necessarily an easy thing to understand for the purposes of corruption, so I tried to make it simple and divided it up into three stages – organised crime on a spectrum of seriousness from less serious organised crime to the most serious. All of these gradations have corruption on the other side.

There are organised crime groups that are occasionally coming together, usually for the purpose of one crime. This might be a serious one and it might be the case that three, four, five people decide to come together and import drugs or move certain other types of prohibited goods across any border or across a state. They do it once or twice, and the network’s key people tend to change. These are usually profit-driven groups but, most of the time, they come together for specific types of criminal activities.

The moment in which these crime groups establish themselves on a more long-term basis – and obviously the profit-driven nature becomes their main qualifier – then we are at the second level and we have the official organised crime group. The one we all understand as such. Now, we are talking about large-scale drug trafficking; we're talking about human trafficking; we're talking about various other transnationally relevant crimes.

Then there is a third level, which is the one that is usually forgotten about when it comes to corruption. This is the one level of organised crime groups – groups of people working together to commit crime – whose final point is not necessarily profit. But it actually usually comes together with power.

By power, I mean a lot of different things and you can have your own take on this. We can talk about political power; we can talk about personal power; and we can talk about a specific-sector power. It comes in different forms.

I'll just keep power and profit together; this is where we would find really the mafia-type criminal organisation. When we add corruption, we'll see that all these different manifestations of seriousness and long-term planning of organised crime carry different approaches in terms of corruption.

Occasional organised crime groups – the kind of groups that only come together for a specific type of crime and specific type of criminal activity, usually for money clearly but that's not really the point, the point is their occasionality – tend to operate with sporadic corruption. They use corruption as a key opener for certain doors.

It usually comes with individual approaches to people. You need someone at the border who needs to be corrupted, and one person as much as another one – as long as the role is the key role that they need – is going to be approached.

It's usually crime-based so it will take an understanding of the vulnerable sectors: obviously, for the importation of drugs, the main difficult sector is border control. But the easiness or difficulty – depends on who you are in this spectrum – is that these groups are there for the short and medium-term. Usually, they are less careful in their approaches and in their own corruptive mechanism and therefore, they are easier to spot. This is the easy-level corruption to spot because it's individual and because it serves the crime and not the other way around.

The moment in which the groups become more long-term is when you have the second layer and we are talking about a systemic type of corruption. It's not just one shipment of drugs that you need to secure; you need to secure a rolling contract with someone on the other side of the world. You need to smuggle things in so you don't just go for individual approaches. No one person is the same as the other so you tend to nourish relationships.

It’s sector-based corruption again – like the previous one but it's less sporadic – so it targets a low level, usually public administration depending – again – on who you need. But instead of just going through the gatekeepers or through border security, we'll go to someone who works in a local council and who can help with our visa application. Because we can get someone a visa instead of just smuggling someone in or trying to get things in the legal way.

This is a more medium and long-term plan and it's a little bit more difficult to understand from a fighting perspective.

The third group, obviously, are the most problematic from a corruption perspective. Because not only are they groups that employ systemic corruption, this type of corruption is endemic. It's long term; it's actually future-orientated. You tend to corrupt before you have the need to actually do anything else.

What does that mean? It means, I will have a network in place if I am in a group that wants to acquire certain types of privileges in a certain sector. And I will have certain people in certain key roles in public administration, who will alert me – years in advance – of certain changes that are more likely to happen than others. Let's say land rezoning; let's say licensing of alcohol; let's say any other thing that might affect businesses in that I might be interested in. And I will work way in advance of these changes so that I am going to be prepared when the changes eventually do happen.

Endemic corruption, in this case, is way more difficult than any other type of corruption to spot. It requires a pattern to be visible and a pattern usually means years of criminal activity. It’s not a one off; it's long-term; it's what the Americans would call the continuity-plus relationship.

You need a continuous network of people in relationship with each other but the relationship is not always obvious. And the crimes will be connected to each other; in a relationship with each other.

There will always be someone within this group who has the so-called leadership disease. Someone who has a role within the network, which is the leader role, and who is going to be the person who gets in contact at the same time with criminals – with people who actually get their hands dirty, who do the big importation of drugs – along with the politicians. This is the quintessential nature of mafia crimes.

Now, it might look like I'm talking about a specific jurisdiction, but I'm actually not. I've been working specifically on Italy, the United States, Australia, Canada and the UK. And this is happening everywhere I have looked – all three levels of organised crime.

Again, we are talking about not just organised crime ‘and’ corruption; we're talking about organised corruption. When it comes to organised crime groups, it might be low-level organisations and occasional individual approaches; it might be profit-driven and strategic, specific to certain PAE sectors. It might be political; it might be political proximity; political influence. All of them are important and all of them are corrosive to the system. But some of them are easier to spot than others.

I'm done with the theory now, so I'll go on with the cases and examples.

I have, on purpose, avoided talking about Australia because my role here is to be the international keynote speaker. But, obviously, you will see that some of the cases that I've selected are quite geographically-irrelevant; they could be really happening anywhere.

Let's start with the low-level, occasional, organised crime-corruption nexus.

A customs and border protection officer in the United States pleaded guilty and was convicted of alien smuggling and bribery. He admitted that, while serving as a public official at Department of Homeland Security, he knowingly allowed a 20-year-old female conspirator to bring in people and merchandise through his vehicle inspection lane in return for sexual favours.

Now, obviously the organised crime element of it is behind the officer; he's not part of any organised crime group. The organised crime group in this case needs someone – in this case, this officer at the border – because they need to smuggle people in. They use sexual favours to do that. It's low-level, in that sense, but clearly it is organised.

A court clerk was an intimate friend of the deputy head of a random French city’s anti-drug squad. She used her access to investigation information to monitor – on his behalf – whether there were any investigations against him or the members of a drug-dealing network he was involved with. She did it a couple of times and asked to be paid for it.

In this case, you have a little bit more agency on the side of the public sector officer. You have two different problems here. First, the deputy head of the drug squad who is actively involved with a drug dealing network. That's one problem; it's organised crime. And the use of individual access that is very random; he just randomly happened to know this woman. And this woman kind of counts on it, so she actually is not just happy to do it but asked to be paid to do it. That's a little bit more advanced.

A heroin trafficker from Pakistan had established a personal relationship with three border officers in the United Kingdom. He was involved in selling large quantities of heroin to customers in the UK so this is very clearly an organised crime group. After completing the sale, the group would pass information to the custom officers who would then conduct a raid and seize the goods.

In that way, he was doing a double hit. He was pocketing profit from the drug sales as well as from the rewards – running into tens of thousands of pounds by the way – given by customs for passing information. And this happened on nine occasions.

He wasn't doing anything else; he was just doing that. So, in that sense, there is no long-term planning; it's short- and medium-term. He actually did the double hit fewer times than the trafficking itself and the only reason why he could do that was because he had the customs officers who did create a little bit of a side network to help him out.

When we start on the more medium-term level, we see the profit-driven, established criminal networks.

So, 16 former police officers of a random city pleaded guilty for their roles in a criminal organisation run out of the police department. The officers worked together to conduct traffic stops and enter the homes of suspected criminals to steal money, property and drugs for their own personal enrichment.

They planted evidence to make false arrests and then extorted money from the victims in exchange for their release from custody. In exchange for bribe payments, the officers gave false testimony, manipulated court orders and failed to appear in court when required, so the criminal cases would be wrongfully dismissed. The officers also sold and distributed wholesale quantities of narcotics.

This is not organised crime infiltration into public administration; this is organised crime in public administration. Obviously, you see the power of these kind of networks compared to the other ones; it has the protection of the public administration in that sense. This was the United Kingdom by the way.

A former county district attorney was sentenced by a federal jury to 156 months in prison, three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $339,000 in restitution. Convicted of one count of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) Act, one count of conspiracy to violate the RICO Act and five counts of extortion – really relevant federal offenses.

He was involved with others in a scheme to illegally generate income for themselves and others through a pattern of bribery, extortion, favouritism, improper influence, personal self-enrichment, self-stealing, concealment and conflicts of interest. He had solicited and accepted more than $100,000 in bribes and kickbacks in the form of cash and campaign contributions, in return for favourable acts of prosecutorial discretion, including minimising charging decisions, pre-trial diversion agreements, agreements on probationary matters and case dismissals.

The reason why I put this here – even if it seems like he's the only one – is because he was caught at the moment when he was getting the leadership disease, which I was talking about before, at the moment when the network he was involved with started to get more on the power side of this organised crime spectrum. But obviously they were talking about a district attorney, so someone with a very important role in public administration; even if it's the United States, it is still very relevant.

We are talking about a person in between; someone who decides to be involved in criminal acts and not just help out the organised crime group that he’s facilitating activities for.

An example from the health sector: Mr Smith is an accountant working in the finance office of a hospital. He starts noticing some minor incongruences in some processes.

First, a unit of the hospital bought machinery without the necessary equipment, so without the required software. They just bought the machine. There is no software and the machine doesn't work. Second, there is a separate purchase of the software, weeks later, compatible with the machinery. So, someone did realise that they had to buy the software and then, yet another purchase for the maintenance services of the machinery previously bought.

For all three purchases that normally would have been done together, they had to start three different procedures. They could have been treated as one, as I was saying. But, if they had treated it as one, they would have had to tender the whole process and by doing three different purchase procedures, they could allocate these purchases. They could directly handle them; they could directly ask the provider to send at different times the three different things they needed instead of tendering and having different providers bid for it.

Mr Smith realised that this was a way to actually have direct allocation because it was below a certain threshold. And the case was eventually one of systemic corruption where the trafficking of favours was in place to the point in which it was very difficult to establish the link with bribes and favours. Someone quite high level in the hospital was eventually found to had promised someone else – the head of an entrepreneurial firm – these favours and they were just going back and forth with it.

The direct selection procedure and allocation of the service favoured the specific company. The owner of the company was actually fictitious, and it was controlled by a crime firm involved in drug trafficking and extortion, which had set up the company to launder money. With the purchases by the hospital – and by asking the hospital to issue different invoices for each product – the company could justify more movement of funds.

Basically, I've shown this case from the perspective of the employer who actually discovered the whole thing. But if we look at the back of it, what happened was that the crime firm had money to launder; laundered the money through setting up a company and putting in a fictitious owner for this company; this fictitious owner negotiated with someone at the hospital; through the direct allocation of funds and different invoicing system, which allowed the company to basically be given the business without having to tender for it – obviously, it did allow for false invoicing and movements of funds. So, there are different ways of looking at this. This case was actually Italy.

This is my favourite because I added it at the last minute. Seven professors of tax law have been arrested, in Italy again ­– one of whom was my tax law professor, so lucky me. Fifty-nine are under investigation overall. They are all academics and are all charged with corruption; with organised crime and corruption.

They had systemically created a cartel to favour the recruitment of certain candidates based on their own calculation rather than merit. The recruitment process for Italian academics is handled by the education ministry. It's public and it's nationalised, so this is an offence against the public administration. They even used intimidation; they suggested that a candidate withdraw his candidacy as the vacancy had been filled, which is the reason why they got discovered.

Since I brought in this slide actually, more things have come up in the news about this case. And these people are not just under investigation for the mismanagement of the recruitment process; they were actually also handling different types of funding and diverting funds from the university to other types of activities. But the case is still ongoing so let's see.

The last one, which is my favourite obviously because I work on mafia crime, so I'm very interested in people who not only get the leadership disease but actually really get it bad. This is really my favourite case and I have a paper, which is coming out on this. I’ve changed the names but I'll give you the official ones in the next slide.

Max – let’s call him Max – is a former right-wing terrorist. He comes and goes from prison. He’s one of the major underworld figures in the city. He's been dealing drugs; he’s kind of a well-known person; and everyone kind of fears him. Once, when he is in prison, he meets Saul – let’s call him Saul – who’s been sentenced for attempted murder. Saul is quite different. He’s the son of a prominent left-wing family in the city, so he’s a posh kid different from Max.

They become friends in prison. They establish an illicit network that little by little conquers every sector of the public administration in the city. They are, at first, interested in profit obviously. They realise that they can merge in a way I'll show you in a little bit but they soon become more interested in a different kind of power. They realise that by going little by little towards the top – towards politics actually – they can access more and more of the public administration sector.

The criminal reputation of Max in the underworld is, let's say, the guarantee of fear and intimidation in the underworld. Saul’s contacts in the upper world – because he’s coming from a very well-connected prominent family – are the guarantee of access to investments. So Saul is the official face of the network. He is the one who approaches people and he approaches people in various ways.

He approaches people, let's say, by promising stuff, so if you tell me and Max when the next contract is going to be available for, let's say, the maintenance of roads in the city. And you're going to tell us beforehand so that we can organise ourselves. We don't want to do anything too illegal, we just want to be better organised, so that when the contract comes up, we can alert certain friends and we can get ahead of schedule before others.

I can, for example, tell you in exchange, when this apartment in this specific part of the city that you really have your eye on will become available for purchase. And I'll tell you before it becomes available and at half of the price, because I know someone who can get it for you.

So, this is the kind of trafficking in favours they do.

They're both in between underworld and upper world. They depend on each other and they build this network around them that comes from each and every social class. So you really have everyone in it from the street drug dealers – because they still do drugs, obviously – all the way up to the mayor. They create a cartel of companies faithful to them. This, by the way, happens in the space of six or seven years.

Different companies in the city interested in different public investments, especially the management of refugee and migrant camps, which, at the time this happened in 2014, was kind of a big deal. We're talking about Italy. These cartels or companies would act together to exclude any competition, so there is no company that actually stands out to be favoured in any way but they all favour each other.

Because depending on who wins the tender, everyone benefits from it. So it's a cartel in a very sense of the word. The exclusion of other competitors did not have to be explicit. At the beginning, it was kind of like, oh we are the network blah blah blah and therefore, you better step out of here.

This was the beginning, the intimidation was obvious. We are a cartel of people; you can’t beat us. But then it became less obvious and people just declined to compete, in the first place. They knew it wasn't worth it anyway because someone else was going to get the contract. So the intimidation became extremely silent – up to the point at which it became unnoticed.

I don't know if any one of you has any idea what I'm talking about but I'm talking about a case that has turned upside down the capital city of Rome in the past few years. The trial has just ended; it's known as mafia capital, even if it's not mafia in this sense. It's been called mafia because it does have this system of intimidation in place.

Max – Massimo Carminati – is the former terrorist. He's the one really behind all this and it’s really his reputation in the underworld. He has connections with all mafia, the real mafia groups for drugs and money. He can access any type of illegal market. He can offer any type of illegal market to the upper world. He can offer drugs to politicians or entrepreneurs or whoever needs it.

Gianni Alemanno, who was the mayor of Rome, is also involved in this. Then, there is the left-wing partner-in-crime.

There are many politicians and people who are the heads of departments of public administration that they managed to have on their payroll. You have the head of cabinet of the region; you have the person in charge of allocating contracts for the maintenance of the refugee camp – one of the most important public administration roles ever in Italy at this stage. The mayor of Rome obviously and other people that like Franco Panzeroni, who was the head of the transport department in the city of Rome and was part of the cartel.

Carlo Pucci was also part of the transport sector and Fabio Gaudenze was part the company in charge of collecting, recycling and garbage. All of these people were heads of very profitable and very key public administration departments of the city of Rome.

The trial ended in July 2018 and 41 people out of 59 are being convicted for organised crime and systemic corruption aimed at the distortion of public administration contracts.

I’ve just picked two quotes from their interceptions. The first one is from Massimo Cariminati, who has been convicted. He’s the right-wing terrorist guy explaining what they're doing:

‘It is the theory of the world in between mate… there are … how to say … the living above and the dead below and we are in the middle (…) a world in between where everybody meets and you ask… how the hell is this possible that tomorrow I can be a dinner with Berlusconi (…) you understand … we all meet, every social class. It's not a question of social class. It's about merit, right? (…) in between also the person in the upperworld has interest for someone in the underworld to do something for them that no one else would do.’

What they're banking on is the demands will come from the upper world. By upper world, he means public administration and politics.

And Salvatore Buzzi, who is his second in charge, explains:

‘You have to be good at it, as we lived through politics; the work I do a lot of people do, so why me?’ he says. Why do they have to choose me?

‘I sponsor newspapers, advertisements and events. I pay for secretaries, for dinners, for banners. On Monday they have a dinner worth 20,000 euros you know…’ [meaning for each person]. ‘this is the period you pay the most because there are the local elections, then for five years you only pay depending on what they do for you.’

They do for you; you don't do for them.

‘This is the moment I pay more … with the council elections … we spend a lot of money for the city council.’

What he’s basically saying is that you have to start from the lower level. Even in politics, even political proximity doesn't start from the upper level, it always starts from the lower level.

So what did they do with the cartels?

They controlled each stage of contract allocation, pre-tender stage through lobbying and intimidation – sometimes silent intimidation – as I said. They moved their way up for the reallocation of public funds. They controlled the choice of the tender procedure, so they knew what tender procedure was going be in place before it was in place.

They had someone who was in the team who wrote the public bidding. They knew what was actually going to be asked. And they were already ready with the bid before the publication of the tender was out.

After the publication of the tender was out – so at the tender stage – comes the collusion and it becomes the intimidation and the actual proximity – the approaching of people. They would definitely, let's say, infiltrate but have someone close in the evaluation board. They completely rigged the selection procedure. When the provisional award was made, they were already working towards the allocation of sub-contracts. And when the final award was made they were already busy with the post-award stage.

The post-award stage required them not just to control the sub-contractors through, obviously, basic corruption and bribery, intimidation; they were also controlling how manpower and resources were located. In the moment they started the work, making sure that the working project progress audit was coming out clean, which means already knowing how to work with the private sector. Companies like KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, all the big companies that do the auditing in certain cases – making sure they have someone there that can help.

When the public work is concluded, you need someone to say that the public work has been done according to the promises of the tender. The testing is completely rigged and pre-prepared before the work is concluded. At the end of the procedure, you just need someone who signs off but by that time everything looks in place because you already have taken all the necessary steps so that it looks clean.

What usually happens is that you claim certain types of expenses, which actually did not happen; you claim certain material, which actually will not be used; inferior materials might be used if you're talking about construction especially. Or any other type of materially-relevant work.

Now we go for the upper, the highest side and this is the end of my case studies. This was, again, one of my favourites. In Italy, when we do manage to understand how mafia groups – the real ones, not the one that the media called mafia – infiltrate, let's say, politics, we always have the moment when the minister of interior sends someone to try and understand what's happened. And what usually happens is that the commission of inquiry that gets selected investigates public administration.

There is no way in which political corruption happens without public administration being corrupted first.

When the Reggio Calabria Council was dissolved for mafia infiltration, which is a procedure that the ministry of interior can command whenever there is proof of infiltration in the public sector and in, obviously, political functions, they discovered that every single sector of public administration in Reggio was mafia controlled.

In the public work sector, a large number of companies had been found having direct family links or direct relationships with clan members – convicted clan members. This had meant that conspicuous public works had been repeatedly allocated to companies with red flags for mafia or other issues.

In the production activity sectors, various economic operators, owners or lease holders of properties in warehouses in areas of communal market not only were linked to local clans but also had been transferred from one municipal market area to another without being authorised or controlled in any way by the council.

That's, again, exploiting the different loopholes that can happen whenever you need more and more stages of authorisation in place to do your work.

In the treasury department – something very creepy actually happened here. Controls were omitted in assigning public housing – so this was the biggest one – and 70% percent had been assigned to mafia members and their relatives.

Also in this department, there were cases of buildings being confiscated from various people for various offences still inhabited by these people instead of being seized. And someone actually died. The head of the treasury department committed suicide because they couldn't cope with this kind of public administration or so-called public administration.

In the legal advisory service of the council, legal cases had been assigned to professionals following unethical and unchecked standards. In particular, cases had been repeatedly assigned to lawyers whose family ties had been ascertained as being of a mafia type. In the social work sector, substantial amounts of money – around 2.5 million euros – was being supplied to companies and cooperatives with a clear connections to local clans.

Now, Italy is the easiest of all because we know what we mean by mafia clans but it's not that far-fetched from certain things I have seen here anyway.

Some considerations in conclusion: I do not like the word infiltration.

I don't think that infiltration is a good word when we talk about organised crime because it's always bi-directional, it's always collusion. There is always a willingness of the public administrator or the politicians to be invested, to invest in the criminal market or have knowledge of the criminal market.

The more sophisticated the group is – the more long-term the group is – the more we are talking about bi-directional collusion.

There is no such thing as a weak or a strong state. Corruption is a behaviour, it’s not a status. It's a human behaviour so everyone potentially could act corruptly, all of us included. Corruption of employees is aimed at reducing competition or supplying goods at better prices. Collusion or cartel agreements, as I explained, are aimed at excluding other companies from competition. So, it can happen in different ways.

It can be individual behaviour or social behaviour but it is a behaviour nevertheless, so it has nothing to do with the weakness or the strength of the state as such.

Corruption is normal. It happens everywhere and it happens all the time. The reason is because, the moment you have a state, the moment you have procedures in place, there will be gaps in these procedures and that's what criminals do. And that's what corrupt corruption does.

Systemic corruption is organised crime, I think. Again, it’s collusion; it’s just a less violent form of it and it's less obviously illegal in that sense, unless it gets picked up. But, in my view, systemic corruption is organised crime. Not all organised crime groups can employ certain levels of corruption, so it's very important to understand what we're talking about when we talk about organised crime and corruption.

Organised corruption, that's the one that I have been trying to discuss especially in the last group of profit- and power-driven groups, is intimidating as much as violence and the threatened use of force. So this needs to be probably the most problematic bit of my talk because there is a feeling that if things cannot go in any other way, then no one will do anything to stop that way of thinking.

Again, organised crime exploits gaps: structural gaps, cultural gaps. It's a twisting of something that is weak in legislation and wherever else. And this is why corruption happens; corruption happens when there are conflicting ethical dilemmas, conflicting values.

In public administration, you have individual ethics – every person and every public official has her own individual ethic and wants to act with appropriate care, courtesy, availability and professionalism to enhance her own and the group reputation. But then the group ethics actually might well be an economic interest. They might drive judgments very differently in competitive settings and this is the dilemma.

Group ethics might collide with individual ethics and then public ethics, which is above it all and which is supposed to look out for disciplinary misconduct to fix an improper behaviour but comes too late. There is a gap sometimes in the way our ethical values act and this is precisely the space for organised crime and for corruption and possibly organised crime and corruption together.

And I'm going to stop here. Thank you.

Thank you, thank you Dr Sergi for that fabulous interpretation of the three tiers of corruption. I'm going to join you now. We do have time for some questions – remember Slido 5326 is our conference code.

All right - the first question, which has received much popularity: can you explain the concept of leadership disease in more detail? How does somebody succumb to leadership disease?

Yeah well, leadership disease, first of all, is not my formulation. It's been around academic talks for a little while. Leadership disease comes really out of the charismatic role that someone has and nurtures within his group, his peers basically.

It's a disease just when it gets twisted into something illegal but leadership disease basically means when you believe that through your leadership skills, you can acquire privileged positions. Because no one else or someone else who doesn't have the same leadership skills will not be able to stop you in that sense. Maybe because you speak better than others, you speak more eloquently than others; many professors have leadership diseases, I think, we tend to have that.

In that sense, it's the recognition of leadership skills for the acquisition of privileges I would say, if that makes sense.

So the second part was how does somebody succumb to it?

I don't think it's a ‘succumb’ necessarily happens, I don't think you catch it. The one person that I'm thinking of in this sense is in the case of Rome that I told you about. The person with the leadership disease wasn't actually the terrorist, he was the other one, he was Salvatore Buzzi, who was, at some point, people knew his name and he was of the idea that he was becoming famous. That he had a role; that he had some sort of call to make.

In that sense, you saw him moving from being a very good networker to becoming someone feared and that's the disease part. So you enjoy using your leadership skills to instil fear, in a way, to be feared by others. I think that's what the disease part means.

Okay, the next most popular question: in your experience what drives otherwise decent public servants to get involved with organised crime gangs?

Easy answer - money. Less easy answer – power. Then, we can get into a very interesting criminological discussion on the thrills that come from committing crime and all that, but that's beyond the point here.

Organised crime offers something that normal crime doesn't offer, which is the organised part. That means there is a usually a system in place before you join and this system gives you the guarantee of immunity somehow. Because, arguably, if someone has been doing crime on a planned basis or on a long-term basis and hasn't been caught yet, you trust them more, in a way, than normal criminals.

The organised part, I think, offers a guarantee of immunity that other crimes don't offer. And there is an element of organised crime, which is the specialisation of roles, which is very democratic in a way, it gives everyone a role.

If you do feel that you are valuable to the group in some way, then that gives you a certain type of – again – not thrill but purpose in what you're doing. And that comes with an awful lot of theories of neutralisation so you tend to justify your own doing by saying, you know, I'm important because of ABC and I can do ABC and what I'm doing is not that problematic compared to what they are doing. What I'm doing is actually just letting stuff through the port but what they are doing is actually importing drugs, so they're way worse than I am, in that sense.

I think there is more space for self-justification than in normal crime.

There's ego as well. There's ego in the leadership disease and there's ego in participating in the network.

And there’s still money, as I keep saying.

And money.

Are there particular types of public sector agencies or functions which are more vulnerable to infiltration or targeting by organised crime?

Any sector. There are the obvious ones, the ones that come out more often, that seemingly are the ones that are more vulnerable but every sector is vulnerable. I mean, seriously. I haven't seen any sector being untouched.

The obvious one is the one where constant money is, so that no matter how bad the economy gets those sectors will always be funded – and we are talking about construction; we are talking about infrastructure; we are talking about maintenance; we're talking about recycling.

We're talking about all types of services that cannot be cut. But education, public health, all sorts of defence and justice, police, anything really. Maybe if you can think of something that you think might not be, it would be interesting for me to think about whether I have an example for that. But there is no sector that I cannot think of – absolutely not.

This morning, when the Commissioner said at the establishment of IBAC that there's a parochial idea that corruption doesn't occur in Victoria because we are somehow better. Your thoughts.

I cannot quite comment on Victoria because I haven't done any research specific on Victoria apart from certain research which obviously goes all the way up to the political proximity of mafia, alleged mafia members. But, well first of all, as I said, corruption is normal, it’s a behaviour, it's not a status so there is no reason.

It would be very counter intuitive to say that Victoria is immune. Why would you be immune, I mean I'm sorry but no one is, so that's one thing. And second, I think what I said before. I think the case of Rome is a quite a good one because it shows that whenever you see high-level political proximity of certain underworld-upperworld mixtures it already means the public sector has been touched somehow.

I'm not saying that it's systemic. I'm not saying that it's endemic. I don't know that. I haven't done research in the public administration in Victoria yet. But all the research that I've looked at and all the countries that I've looked at, you don't get to a certain level of political proximity unless you have certain interest already in the public sector.

How that manifests in Victoria I don't know. But I'm quite sure you you cannot have one without the other. So good luck to you.

What is the best way to detect power-oriented corruption - whistleblowing or police intelligence?

Both. It’s the usual problem: who police's the police? And whistleblowing definitely, and protection of whistleblowing, would be the problem necessarily so to make sure that there is system in place after the whistle-blower has done his job.

I think police might not necessarily be the answer but I'm not quite sure that corruption agencies alone are the answer either. It does need an outsider perspective, so in this case, probably state police needs to be supported by federal police or by other types of police forces to avoid the necessary problems that you're going to encounter with local police forces. But yeah, I think it always starts with someone's bias. I think we all have – in ourselves – the potential to justify certain corrupted behaviour. We do it all the time.

I think it does start with personal bias and I'm recognising what kind of biases we have that will eventually make us prone to not talk against certain types of behaviours. Again, it's an ethical dilemma so…

And it brings in how do we get to the bit that we don't know?

In a wonderful world or a realistic world? In a wonderful world, as I said, I think there are many important lessons that we can understand from other countries and I stepped out of Italy for these specific reasons. To see whether certain behaviours could be observed anywhere else or if something was wrong with Italy. There's a lot wrong with Italy but, you know, we're not that special in that sense.

In a wonderful world, what you need is, again, is the political side. It’s the political will and the political vulnerabilities that need to be targeted. Because from that, if you have political proximity, if you have crime and political proximity, it's already too late. And if you do not have that, so if you do have a political sector, a political class, that is actually less prone to certain types of corruption or at least to get away with it, which means investigation then needs to be targeted at that – then you have a public sector that is not … how can I say it in a nice way? Where immunity is less likely to happen.

So that, if something happens, you won't have someone powerful to cover it up for you. Because it's always the low-level public administrators that get caught at the end of the day. Unfortunately, it's like organised crime so you end up targeting the low-level individuals, the ones that can be disposable to the overall system. But the high up ones always have someone who backs them up and that's the problem.

I'm not sure I have the answers to this. That's why I'm an academic and I'm not a law enforcement person. I study things and then I'm happy with that.

You're probably the best person to answer this. What's the difference between mafia as it’s portrayed in the media and mafia in real life?

In which country? Here? And which city are we talking about here because…

Which would you like to take?

Mafia, first of all, is a type of organised crime and it's the power or profit-oriented one that I was describing. It's not special to Italy even though we had this wonderful role in shaping the public knowledge of it. Well, actually the Americans did it for us.

Mafia exists everywhere. Mafia-type groups exist everywhere and the kind of media coverage that you have in this country - and this is specific in Victoria - I must say is awesome. Because it does really describe what I would call mafia-type behaviours very carefully, even though you don't have offense or you don't necessarily manage to get to the bottom of things. Or to actually any arrests of any of the people who are mentioned sometimes for number of reasons, which it is not really the place here to discuss, but mafias are behaviours.

It's really the kind of networks in place where you have all of it: you have someone with the leadership disease or more people with the leadership disease. You have long-term plans; you have patterns of activities; you have someone who does… in the same network someone who deals with the very illegal stuff, so the drugs. Someone else who does the construction; someone who invests in property; someone who handles loans; someone who is in charge of visa applications. So you have a system that covers every single angle of every single thing you might think of.

And it's really about the networking and the ability to reach out, not for the person who can help you in the short term but for the person that you can invest today in this relationship and nurture until you actually need that person to do something for you. That's a kind of trafficking of favours; that is what we call mafia behaviour.

So the media not in this country but specifically in Victoria, in Melbourne are quite good. The thing with mafia is that it's a too-charged name, so I think it's misleading because you think of these bloody Italians who came here and corrupted us.

I'm sorry to say that they are very Australian and so… not sure whether it's better or worse but yeah. I think it needs to be understood that mafia is not something that came from overseas. It's very much an Australian thing.

You described our journalists as awesome. Are the journalists in Rome awesome?

Yeah well, let's put it this way, my favourite journalists are in Australia. The Italian journalists have an easier job because, in Italy, we have an easier understanding of what mafia is and what mafia is not. The case of mafia capital has been in the news since 2014. It's being covered widely and it's been given the name of capital because the prosecutors wanted to push for a mafia offense, which they didn't manage to do – unfortunately for us – but yeah, Italian journalists are less adventurous.

The top question: are only men corrupt? There are no women in your case studies.

No, there was a woman.

Is this indicative of general behaviour? On the weekend - with you featuring in the Background Briefing – you mentioned that women were in charge of the education of the young into the clan behaviour.

It depends on what we are talking about again. No, we are as corrupt as anyone else. Actually, I should have been more gender wise in my selection of the cases but there was a woman who was there working with them. There were two women actually, the one with sexual favours and the other one with who was getting paid to check on records for the drug squad person.

I think there is a gender bias, yes, but again because organised crime requires somehow different roles for women – not that we are less able to do it; we are very able to run drug cartels if needed – but in terms of easy-to-picture mafia groups, women have the special role of, traditionally at least, preserving the cultural values, the distorted cultural values of mafia families.

In the case of mafia families, that definitely is the case. In the case of organised crime groups, there is no real gender bias I've seen – there is, statistically, less presence of women, especially when it comes to violent outbursts of crime-related groups. But I don't think there is a specific no-go zone for women, no. We are as good as you guys.

We're going to have to leave it there. Dr Anna Sergi, thank you for your chilling analysis of the three tiers.

Thank you.