Francesco Forgione (above) claims that Mafia families as portrayed by hit US drama, 'The Sopranos', have been infiltrating Ireland

ITALY'S infamous Mafia families have spent years infiltrating Ireland as part of a global effort to launder money and expand their criminal empires, according to a leading Italian expert on organised crime.

Francesco Forgione, who has been under armed guard for the past 15 years, has traced the mob's spread across the world as Italian lawmakers clamped down on domestic activities.

As part of a newly published list of crime families' global operations, Forgione has identified four in Dublin – the Trimboli family and the Licciardi, Sarno and Di Lauro clans have all been linked to the capital.

"Unless Europe introduces laws recognising the crime of Mafia membership, as we have done in Italy, and allows the seizure of assets at the moment of a mobster's arrest, the Mafia will always be one step ahead," he said.

The three clans identified are all linked to a lucrative trade in counterfeit goods, including luxury brands shipped in from Naples, specifically clothing, bags, cameras and even electric drills.

However, while counterfeit goods are seen as a 'lesser evil' in society, the story may not end there. Similar ventures in the UK have proved far more sinister.

Forgione notes: "Members of the Secondigliano Alliance [also attached to Ireland], a group of clans within the Camorra, are suspected of owning shops in London which turn out fake designer goods and also act as hideouts for fugitives and fronts for drug trafficking."

The most notorious case of a mobster moving to shelter in Ireland is that of Robert Trimboli from Plati, in the Reggio Calabria province of Italy.

The Australian-based Trimboli was wanted for years on numerous charges relating to weapons and drug trafficking but fled to Ireland after he became concerned that he would be arrested for his narcotics empire.

Having forged a notorious reputation in New South Wales, Trimboli fled in 1981, first to the US, then to France and finally to Ireland, where he was arrested.

His flight from Australia and subsequent manhunt were also sparked by his implication in the murder of the anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay.

"The Italian authorities asked for his extradition but it was refused. After his release he moved to Spain where he died in 1987," said Forgione.

Also mentioned is Gaetano Guida, one of the bosses of the feared Secondigliano Alliance.

Forgione quotes Guida as saying: "After my escape [from custody], Cutolo [another boss] and I became business partners…we were thinking of starting a clothing business in Cuba… [and] in Ireland, in Dublin.

"My brother-in-law, Salvatore Morone, and another person called O'Russo have some activities."

Forgione, a university lecturer and the former president of the Italian anti-Mafia parliamentary commission until 2008, said the detailed and relatively unnoticed expansion of the Mafia across the world, from its power bases in southern Italy, was not surprising.

"Ndrangheta [a large organisation of related crime cells] feeds on family relationships… and transforms them into criminal relationships as a 'social glue'
in a bond of omerta [code of silence]," he said.

"This is the peculiar trait of a unique identity in the world crime scene: its relationship with the tradition makes it change-proof against any cultural contaminations.

"On the other side there is the modernity and the capability to enter into and adapt to different geographic, economic and social realities."

Forgione explained that there was a common level of hypocrisy – a willingness to turn a blind eye because the Mafia was not conspicuous in the places it settled.

"This problem doesn't involve Italy alone – it is the result of corruption, conscious cohabitation with it or even the guilty underestimation and misunderstanding of the phenomena," he said.

"For this reason, when a boss is arrested in Caracas or Toronto, Malaga or Nice, Romania or Bogota, Amsterdam or Scotland, it doesn't mean that that boss chose that country as an exotic and hospitable place to spend the holidays or to escape justice.

"The truth is that these places, since a while ago, have become the principal squares of the criminal market managed by the various Italian mafias.

"They are the unequivocal sign of a silent and lengthy colonisation which spreads all over the world."