Leaders of Italy's three biggest organised crime syndicates are working together to negotiate the creation of an over-arching "crime cartel", according to an Italian MP with special access to the findings of investigators.
Emiddio Novi, a senator and member of the parliamentary anti-mafia commission, told journalists that the proposed arrangements could take shape within 18 months. Mr Novi, who belongs to Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia! party, was speaking after a visit to Naples at the end of last week in which he spoke to prosecutors engaged in fighting organised crime.
Mr Novi said the idea was to apply a kind of market-sharing agreement to the international trade in narcotics. The Calabrian 'Ndrangheta already has exclusive agreements for the supply of cocaine from South America, while the Neapolitan Camorra is prominent in the trafficking of cannabis products.
The original mafia, Sicily's Cosa Nostra, was a major force in the global heroin trade. But, under the leadership of Bernardo Provenzano, the "boss of bosses" captured last year after more than 40 years on the run, the organisation underwent a period of retrenchment in which its mobsters focused their attention on extortion and the infiltration of the legitimate economy.
Mr Novi said that "The Calabrians would monopolise the traffic in cocaine; the Neapolitans that of hashish and marijuana, [while the Sicilian mafia] would probably have to guarantee relations with the business world, together with the Calabrians."
His remarks echoed reports of the testimony of a Camorra "supergrass", Luigi Galliano. Last year Galliano was said to have told investigators that just such a plan was in the air.
The daily La Stampa yesterday reported that the mobsters' efforts to carve up the drugs trade between them were the subject of a top-secret inquiry involving anti-mafia prosecutors. It said Mr Novi's comments had dismayed investigators working on what it termed a delicate project.
The paper said the talks had mostly been between imprisoned clan bosses. And it linked the investigation to two recent developments. One was the relaxation of the conditions imposed on some leading mafiosi. The other was a new investigative unit, equipped with advanced eavesdropping technology, within the police force that guards and transports Italian prisoners.
Italy's three main organised crime syndicates have long had links. Their initiation ceremonies are similar and, while their origins are uncertain, it has been claimed by different authorities that the 'Ndrangheta is an offspring of either Cosa Nostra or the Camorra.
The history of all three is littered with examples of prominent hoodlums who were made members of one or both of the other mafias. According to "supergrass" testimony, the Camorra boss, Raffaele Cutolo, was sworn into the 'Ndrangheta as a prisoner in 1976. As a way of thanking his sponsors, he is said to have arranged for the murder of a dangerous rival.
While on the run, Cosa Nostra's former "boss of bosses" Salvatore "Toto" Riina is believed to have lived in Calabria as a guest of local mobsters. But nothing approaching a comprehensive deal between all three "mobs" has ever been reported.
Who are they?
The Sicilian Mafia has lost ground to other mobs, but boasts 5,000 affiliates. Investigators are not certain who replaced Bernardo Provenzano, arrested last year, as leader.
Experts believe the Calabrian mafia is Italy's richest crime syndicate. Estimates of its membership range from 4,000 to more than 8,000.
The trigger-happy Camorra is around 3,500-strong.