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By Philip Pullella
ROME (Reuters) - Companies controlled by the Sicilian Mafia are trying to win a share of the lucrative re-construction work in the area of central Italy hit by last April's devastating earthquake, a new report says.
The report by anti-Mafia investigators, excerpts of which were published in major Italian newspapers on Friday, said that at least one company had managed to skirt strict controls put in place after previous natural disasters and others had tried.
The company, which won contracts worth about 450,000 euros (410,182 pounds), was linked to the Rinzivillo crime family in Gela, Sicily.
It had been hired to build retaining walls for a larger company which had won contracts for about 50 million euros. The report also said about half of the smaller company's workers were found to have criminal records.
Italian construction companies must get certificates attesting that they are free from contacts with organised crime before they can get a share of public works contracts.
But in major works projects, which involve a series of contractors, sub-contractors and even sub-sub-contractors, authorities say it is very difficult to control whether all the companies are not tainted by organised crime contacts.
The Mafia tries to get companies it controls directly or indirectly to get parts of public works contracts as vehicles for its money-laundering and extortion activities and as a means of skimming off the top of funds provided by the state.
Estimates of the total cost of reconstruction in the area where an earthquake killed some 300 people on April 6, have reached as much as 12 billion euros. The European Union has pledged nearly 500 million euros.
SICILY BRIDGE PROJECT
Newspapers said the same company that managed to infiltrate the L'Aquila reconstruction work had also received contracts for work on a new subway line in Milan, a high-speed train line in northern Italy and work on a major highway in Sicily.
Italian media said authorities had managed to stop at least two other construction companies from southern mainland Italy and Sicily from getting earthquake reconstruction work in L'Aquila after discovering their links to the Mafia.
Senator Achille Serra, a member of opposition Democratic Party and former Rome police chief, visited the earthquake area this week along with a parliamentary anti-Mafia commission and cited a need to raise the guard against Mafia infiltration.
"We need to re-enforce the structures already in place with incisive intelligence work because the possibility of (Mafia) infiltration very real," he said.
Italy's success or failure in keeping organised crime from profiting from the quake reconstruction could be a litmus test for a much larger project in the south.
Ground-breaking is due to start this December on the massive Messina Straits bridge linking Sicily to the mainland.
The mastodontic project will cost some 3.9 billion euros and construction is taking place in Sicily and Calabria, two regions with some of Italy's highest density of organised crime.
The road and railway bridge, one of the largest and most expensive construction projects in Italian history, is due to be completed by 2016.
(Editing by Ralph Boulton)

Reuters