The Garbage of Naples How the Mafia Helped Send Italy's Trash to Germany

An ongoing problem with waste disposal reached a crisis point in Naples in 2008.
DPA

An ongoing problem with waste disposal reached a crisis point in Naples in 2008.

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Part 2: Afoul of German Treatment Laws


Since 2005, even German domestic household garbage can no longer be dumped into landfills. Instead, it has to be incinerated or subjected to a complicated procedure, which involves sorting and crushing the garbage, and then removing as much bacteria as possible. German authorities only approve garbage imports if the waste has been properly treated first.

Despite these restrictions, the Saxon and Italian solid-waste dealers tried anyway. Beginning in April 2007, freight trains filled with household waste began departing from the Maddaloni-Marcianise depot about 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of Naples, to be unloaded the next day in Großpösna, 1,500 kilometers away.

Minor incidents like the one that happened on April 26, when a special unit of the Carabinieri, Italy's national police force, ordered foul-smelling containers opened, could not put a stop to the German-Italian garbage connection.

According to the freight documents, the containers were supposed to contain pre-treated waste, or intermediate products in the recycling chain. Instead, the Carabinieri found ordinary household waste from southern Italian kitchens, and seized eight containers. But by the next day, the trains were running again.

Under this system, the contents of 7,500 containers ended up in eastern Germany. It was apparently an extremely lucrative arrangement for the WEV, which is said to have been paid €16 million, or €86 per ton. The politicians from Leipzig and the surrounding areas must have been pleased, now that their prestigious project was finally paying off. Their company, almost bankrupt a year ago, was in the black.

It appears that authorities in Saxony were not particularly interested in the nature of the solid waste being processed in their treatment plants. Investigators believe they can prove that Sales Director Doruch simply lied about the contents of many shipments and promptly shipped the bulk of the waste, a total of 107,000 tons, to treatment facilities run by Andreas Böhme in neighboring Saxony-Anhalt. Böhme, an automotive body specialist by trade, did not have a permit to process solid waste from Italy, but he did own a waste shredder. In Saxony-Anhalt, the solid waste from Naples was apparently re-classified once again, this time as "sorted mineral waste," which qualified it for disposal.

'A Fixed Group' of Criminals

Some of it wound up in a landfill in the town of Freyburg-Zeuchfeld, in Saxony-Anhalt, which was all but shut down in the spring of 2009, after state environmental inspectors had found 300,000 tons of illegally dumped waste at the landfill.

The prosecutors believe they know who is behind the garbage shipments. From the very beginning, says one investigator, "a fixed group of German and Italian criminals" planned to "dispose of the garbage from Campania illegally, because most of it was untreated, in the region of Saxony-Anhalt."

Böhme denies this. His attorney, Steffen Segler, says that his client treated the solid waste from the WEV "properly." Konrad Doruch also rejects accusations that he was involved in illegal garbage profiteering. Doruch, like his former boss at WEV, has since left the company.

The new man at the head of the waste treatment plant has hired an auditing firm to conduct an internal investigation, the results of which will be presented to the WEV Supervisory Board in mid-March. It's still unclear whether, and when, prosecutors in Leipzig and Halle (the state capital of Saxony-Anhalt) will file charges.

Their counterparts in Naples appear to be further along in prosecuting the case. In the fall of 2008, they presented Lorenzo Miracle with an arrest warrant, and two dozen other managers at the treatment plant and officials were temporarily arrested. They all stand accused of being involved in illegal garbage profiteering.

It almost seemed as if these efforts had put an end to the international garbage dealers' work. But that impression is deceptive. In December, another 100 tons of fresh garbage was discovered in a waste dump in Saxony-Anhalt. It was from Italy.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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