God, Homeland and Family. The slogan used by Benito Mussolini almost 100 years ago to highlight the values of fascism has now its new version. It includes restaurants, apparel stores chains, jewelers, barbershops, private mail services franchises, language schools, communication start-ups, real estate companies, obscure trusts and odd offshore companies.
Behind the official façade of the fascists of the third millennium, a true entrepreneurial universe extends across Europe, from Italy to France, from the UK down to Cyprus, and as far as to Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In this giant fascist-black logoed multinational purity ideals of Mussolini’s time intertwine with state-of-the-art requirements of the market economy — leading to embarrassing corollaries.
With general elections coming up in Italy, L’Espresso looked into the businesses of the Italian far-right. The goal: draw in detail the business network that Forza Nuova and CasaPound, the two leading Italian fascist parties have created over the years. After gaining political space in Europe and adding to their communal councils seats across Italy, both movements now aim at their biggest step: entering the Parliament. The mission is not impossible, being that the new electoral law establishes an easy 3% threshold quota. If achieved, the two small nostalgic groupings could gain an unprecedented negotiating power in the new scenarios of large coalitions that will be needed to govern according to the new electoral law.
Forza Nuova and CasaPound, albeit actually quite different, have a common root. This is Terza Posizione. A neo-fascist movement born in 1978 and discontinued officially four years later, Terza Posizione counts among its founders Roberto Fiore and Gabriele Adinolfi, who were then in their early twenties. On the heels of criminal investigations into right-wing terrorism that included the bomb at the train station in Bologna, and that accused them both, Mr. Fiore and Mr. Adinolfi escaped Italy and took refuge in the UK at first and later in France. Forty years later, with the trial and convictions behind them, the guys are back. Mr. Fiore is now the national secretary of Forza Nuova; Mr. Adinolfi is CasaPound’s thinker. None ever broke their political ties with the past, let alone their business links. The UK has always been Forza Nuova’s main business base, the primary source from which to tap financing. Financial ties between CasaPound and France are more recent, but gained momentum after Marine Le Pen’s Front National decided to invest in the Italian far-right.
London, 1980. To understand the activities of both parties nowadays, it helps going back to the so-called “Anni di piombo”, the “Years of Lead” in which terrorism ravaged Italy, and to the aftermath of the bomb that killed 85 people in Bologna. At that time, when Mr. Fiore — along with Massimo Morsello and other Terza Posizione militants — arrived secretly in Margaret Thatcher’s London, they got support from the League of Saint George, an international node of the European right that included the former British National Party, chairman Nick Griffin. The source here is a 1982 report by the Italian Secret Services (SISDE) on fascist rising. The entrepreneurial career of the young Italian neo-fascist takes off in those foggy years, the same years in which a never clarified allegation casts a disturbing shadow on the UK having links to Mr. Fiore. According to a 1991 document by the Consultative Commission on Racism and Xenophobia of the European Union that L’Espresso obtained, “He [Roberto Fiore] had been an agent with the British Secret Service (MI6) since the early ’80s.”
One thing is indisputable: over the almost 20 years during which the Roman politician was on the run sought by Italian authorities, he was also establishing solid economic operations in the UK. It is a fact that he and some of his most trusted men are currently owners or top managers of a number of brands of student travel companies based in the UK, including London Orange and Easy London. As Mr. Fiore himself told the press, perhaps overstating it a bit, his is “the most important reference organization for European youth tourism.”
LA RETE DELLE SOCIETA’ NERE
What never surfaced so far is that the ownership of three UK-law trusts can be traced to the Forza Nuova leader as well. Two of these trusts, the Saint Michael the Archangel and the Saint George Educational, channeled, at least since the mid-‘90s, hundreds of thousands of pounds. The trusts got the money with anonymous donations, which in turn were transferred to Italian companies owned by the family of the Forza Nuova secretary or partners of his in the form of charitable financing. Take for example the trust devoted to the Archangel Michael. Beniamino Iannace, one of its managers and Forza Nuova candidate to the European Parliament in 2009, raised 475,000 euros over the last four years in charitable donations in the UK. That money ended up almost entirely in Italy, again through donations to at least three private companies which are in ownership to the Fiore family: Rapida Vis, Futura Vis and Comeritresa. The daughters of the Forza Nuova secretary own quotas in all three. The official purpose of payment? Financing to produce publications on the Catholic Church. Well, this money never showed up in the balance sheet of the Italian counterpart companies. The trusts came under investigation by British administrative oversight bodies. A couple of years earlier, The Guardian reported that the two foundations were funding renovation work in Los Pedriches, a Nazi village in Spain, where Terza Posizione International had moved in “to create a white nationalist community and train volunteer soldiers,” the British newspaper wrote. The investigation papers, closed in 2005, documented business links between the foundations and a company owned by Mr. Fiore and Mr. Morsello: “The payments,” the report stated, “were made in favor of Meeting Point, [a company currently called Easy London, EN], and one of Mr. Fiore’s private businesses.” The founder of Forza Nuova admitted to the charges, but explained the payments as funds needed to pay the rent of a “charity store” in Shirland Road — that is only a few yards away from the legal headquarters of his many companies in the Italian-travel-to-London trade.
I gruppi di estrema destra puntano a entrare in Parlamento. Grazie ai fondi di società e privati in Italia e all’estero. Ecco quali sono, tra esercizi commerciali e misteriosi trust
Documents obtained recently by L’Espresso show that the trusts kept operating even after the British investigation had been closed, and that some anonymous donations kept being transferred to Mr. Fiore’s private companies. In the meantime, a new trust, the Saint Mark the Evangelist trust, was established not so long ago. There is no balance sheet to help gather what the operations of the trust are, but a hint may come from the names of two of its managers. Both are in the inner circle of the Rome-born politician: Maria Beatriz Mr. Fiore Burgos, his daughter, and entrepreneur Stefano Pistilli, who in the past had business deals with well-known members of the Italian far-right, and currently manages three other companies in the UK. In the business of managerial consultancy, market research and surveys, one of the companies goes by a most evocative name: Gladio Consulting.
London has always been the center of the international contacts network of Forza Nuova, to be sure, but in the last few years the attention of neo-fascists shifted to Moscow. Praising enthusiastically the Kremlin’s number one man, Mr. Fiore never hid his sympathies for Vladimir Putin. He also visited Russia often — actually several times in the last three years — all of which shows that the two are on the same political wavelength as to immigration, gay issues and a traditional family. In one of the visits two years ago, he participated in the Conservative Forum held in St. Petersburg in the presence of almost all European neo-fascist leaders. According to our intelligence, in exchange for support for the Russian cause in Europe, extremist movements did “receive [Russian] economic support”. Was this the case also for Forza Nuova? There is no way to know, but information obtained by L’Espresso allows tracking some of the economic operations linking Mr. Fiore to Russia. He not only sided with the annexation of Crimea, he also organized for a group of Italian entrepreneurs to travel to the Black Sea Peninsula — an odd move for the party defending “economic patriotism” and made a mantra of Italian productions first. After a few of those organized trips, some of the entrepreneurs decided to relocate to Crimea.
Economic relations between Mr. Fiore and Russia began officially in 2012 with a two days meeting called “Russian-Italian Trade Dialogue” in Nizhny Novgorod, 400 kilometers east of Moscow. The summit program stated that Mr. Fiore was there in his capacity of head of the Italian-Russian Alexandrite Association. Two years later, he was back organizing business trips, but this time the entrepreneurs went straight to Crimea, a territory which in the meantime had come under Russian control, and Mr. Fiore’s name was no longer seen in relation to the Alexandrite organization. People who participated in those meetings told that everything was organized from Italy by the Forza Nuova secretary. “A friend introduced me to the association, of which I knew Mr. Fiore was the president,” said Diego Ebau, a Sardinian small entrepreneur who participated in those trips. “My goal and that of other dozens of companies who were there, was not of political nature. We just wanted to know more about the benefits of investing in Crimea. According to Mr. Ebau, investing at least 50,000 euros in the Peninsula implied zero taxes for the first five years and a 6 percent cap on taxes thereinafter. In other words, a tax haven directly connected to Moscow via the bridge over the Kerch that Mr. Putin so badly wanted built. What could be more inviting for entrepreneurs or investors who at home feel crushed by taxes and recession? This is why some of the companies that participated in Mr. Fiore’s trips to Crimea currently have plans to shut down their factories in Italy and to reopen them in Crimea. “I left the Alexandrite association after two trips, because I prefer to do things on my own,” said Mr. Ebau, “but I know that a Puglia textile company is already in the process of moving production over there. And to tell the truth, I have plans for myself: together with another Sardinian entrepreneur, we are looking to open a marble processing company there.”
Relocation doesn’t tell the whole story. Roberto Fiore never told the rest publicly: Italy’s utmost patriotic politician has owned for over five years a company based in Cyprus, an island Russians love also because thanks to its bank secrecy policies it became one of the go-to places for whoever wants to keep his or her businesses confidential. In October 2010, Mr. Fiore founded on the Island Vis Ecologia Ltd, a company with officially operations in the “materials recycling” industry. It surely could not handle much of an operation, let alone materials recycling: it had neither a website nor employees, and its legal office was domiciled at an accountant’s office. At the Register of Companies its record reads that it was incorporated in Cyprus for tax purposes, but there is no way of knowing if its bank accounts ever were active, because the company never filed a balance sheet. Forza Nuova’s secretary did not acknowledge our requests for a clarification on the operations of his Cypriot company.
The fascist leader was not the sole owner of the Cyprus-based company. Beniamino Iannace, a candidate for Forza Nuova in the past, accounted for the ownership of the remaining 50 percent of the shares. He also run the British trust devoted to San Michele. In 2012 he participated in the meeting organized by the Alexandrite association in Russia. He did not answer the questions L’Espresso submitted to him, but provided just the one explanation: Vis Ecologia, the Cyprus-based company, “has never been operational, never had clients and, thus, never filed a balance sheet.” While he owned the Cypriot shell company, to be sure, he also founded the Gruppo Italiana Servizi Postali. A 36-year-old born in Campania, Italy, Mr. Iannace is currently a rampant entrepreneur in the private postal services industry with a franchising company with 64 branch offices across Italy. One Mr. Fiore is again an involved in the business. This time it is not Roberto, but his firstborn Alessandro. In 2013, at the time of the incorporation of the group, Mr. Fiore’s son was one of the shareholders together with Mr. Iannace and Fabio Infante, the former having been also a Forza Nuova candidate to the House in Italy. A few years later, Mr. Fiore junior sold his share of the company to Mr. Iannace, who thud become majority shareholder of the postal services group. The postal trade does not appear to be very profitable: the last balance sheet filed dates to 2015, and shows earnings for 105,000 euros, as well as a slight loss — it offers nonetheless a very appealing potential opportunity: the delivery of fines, judicial and certified mail provides access to the personal information and addresses of millions of people. For a political party that wants to reach as many people as possible, such strategically important information could be a treasure trove. Mr. Iannace strongly denied having such a side goal, and maintained that his company “never had or would have any political nuance, connotation or positioning whatsoever.” Put side by side, Mr. Iannace’s political past and his current entrepreneurial activity show a contradiction worth of being noted. Forza Nuova’s historical manifesto features at point 3 “stopping immigration”. Yet, Gruppo Italiana Servizi Postali is a Western Union partner, the world‘s most popular money transfer service which is used mainly by immigrants all over the world, and also by those sending remittances from Italy. In other words, one of the businesses of an anti-immigration advocate like Mr. Iannace and Mr. Infante profits from immigrants and would not be in line thus with the official directives party because it. But then, business is business.
From an ideology point of view, Forza Nuova’s militants are the most traditional neo-fascist rank and file, while their cousins at CasaPound reflect an evolution of comrades, as extreme right militants are called in Italy. The content of the political propaganda of both groups is identical, but their methods have changed. Mr. Fiore and his partners focus their efforts on expanding their international contacts network (Forza Nuova opened a branch office in the US a few years ago), whereas CasaPound leaders are using all their might to gather supporters domestically. In just a few years they have achieved important results. They organize neighborhood watch rounds in the suburbs, they have hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, they are granted time on the public debate sphere. Above all, however, they have seats in several municipal councils — and many so. From Bolzano to Lucca, to Arezzo and Grosseto.
However, behind their political activism drawing on anti-immigration propaganda, their battle horse, CasaPound, with its headquarters in an occupied public building in the center of Rome, is also very active in a dense network of commercial operations. Their political and businesses network exploded in the same period during which some French nationals, all close to the Front National, landed in Italy. The party led by Marine Le Pen, is definitely richer than their CasaPound cousins thanks to a €11 million financing it received from Russia over the last few years, as journalist Marine Turchi told Mediapart. It is no secret that the Kremlin favors in Europe the rise of euro-sceptic, xenophobic, and proRussian parties. This is why it is hard to believe that Mr. Putin knew or knows nothing about the many companies some people in Le Pen’s entourage have been setting up in Italy. Most well-known is Carré Français, a sort of French version of Eataly. Every type of champagne, oysters and cheese are offered in the elegant venue in the heart of Rome. The company had a turnover of close to a half a million euros in 2015, according to the last balance sheet filed. General manager of the restaurant-concept store is Jildaz Mahé, who when young was a member of the French neo-fascist student movement, Groupe d’union et de défense (GUD), the same grouping that had as members also the other Frenchmen who recently established companies in Italy in partnership with CasaPound supporters. There is the “Angelino since 1889” restaurants chain, for example, that has branches in Rome, Milan, Malaga, and even Lima and is partly owned by Maria Bambina Crognale, the wife of CasaPound leader Gianluca Iannone, and Pierre Simonneau, a militant of the French right. Halfway between a bistro and a pub and more informal and less chic than Mahé’s restaurant is Carré Monti. Mr. Simonneau is here again one of the partners along with CasaPound’s attorney Domenico Di Tullio and Chiara Dell Fiacco, a CasaPound candidate to the Italian House in 2013. Carré Monti is their usual meeting place, where they also often organize birthday parties for camerati.
In her forties, Chiara Del Fiacco is blond and tattooed. She is the direct link between the Italian and the French comrades. Her companion is Sébastien De Boëldieu, who is considered to be CasaPound’s foreign minister. Mr. De Boëldieu is also a long-time friend of Front National’s Frederic Mr. Chatillon, who is 49 years old and head of communication of Le Pen’s latest election campaigns. Those campaigns, 2012, 2014 and 2015, resulted in probes by the French judiciary with charges ranging from fraud to social goods abuse. The accusals did not discourage Mr. Chatillon, whose name surfaced also with the Panama Papers in relation to some offshore companies. Could a probe possibly scare someone so good at conveying the image of a man of action? No, and he showed that a few years ago when it became public that his company Riwal had worked for Syria’s Bashar to Assad for 100,000-150,000 euros a year paid by the Syrian embassy in Paris, Mediapart wrote. The French judiciary decided at that time to dig into the issue, but did not find evidence to build a criminal offense case. After that, Mr. Chatillon decided that it was time for him to move to a new environment. He steered straight towards Italy, where he could count, as he boasted, on the friendship with members of Alleanza nazionale, Forza Italia, Fratelli d’Italia and, of course, that of CasaPound’s leader, Sébastien De Boëldieu.
Two years ago, Le Pen’s communication strategist set up Riwal Italia in a splendid noble palazzo in the historic center of the capital. Who are the likely clients of the communication agency? Mr. Chatillon answered L’Espresso’s questions by merely denying business relations with CasaPound and Fratelli d’Italia, and by adding that his company had never worked “for companies, associations and/or foundations with political purposes.” To learn more, the only possibility is to rely on the few official documents available, like the 2015 balance sheet, which records a 135,000 euros income, the origin of which remains unaccounted for. The same goes for the role of Mrs. Le Pen’s man in Carré Français. Mr. Chatillon holds no official function in the company, nonetheless he himself stated being the general manager of the Roman so-called “French culinary embassy” in a post published on Tripadvisor in late 2015. Keeping a similar low profile, other French companies started businesses south of the Alps. Mahé, the former owner of Carré Français, launched in 2017 a catering-restaurant company called La Romanee. It is managed by two French women, Simone Rosso and Audrey Orcel. Mediapart, which contributed with L’Espresso on this part of the investigation, did not get a response from the two women on the purpose of their investment in Italy.
Alexandre-Paul Martin reacted in a similar way. The 27-year-old rising star of the Front National is believed to be Mr. Chatillon’s dolphin, after his agency, e-Politic, beat rival communications agency Riwal. According to Mr. Chatillon’s Facebook account, Martin just came back from Syria, where together with his mentor he visited the cities liberated by Assad’s army with Russian support. Martin too decided to invest in Italy in 2017, and did so by incorporating Squadra Digitale Srl, a company statedly engaged in the business of communications with legal offices in meaningful and historical address. That is via della Scrofa 39, Rome, the same address hosting the Alleanza Nazionale Foundation and the editorial desks of Il Secolo D’Italia. The young French entrepreneur answered the questions submitted by L’Espresso with just a few lines. He denied any commercial links to Italian political forces and to his fellow countrymen of Carré Français, cutting short on the goal of his new company. He founded it, he replied, “owing to my interest in developing a business in this branch in Italy.” Period. In short, no one seems to want to say anything about their reasons to invest in Italy’s Capital.
There is also a link connecting indirectly French nationalists to a big Italian company, though this firm have nothing to do with the extreme right-wing movements. Such is the case at Stroili Oro, an international jewelry brand (370 stores, 1,800 employees) based in Friuli. Its chairman of the Board of Directors is Romain Peninque since 2016. That is when a French group of investors, Thom Europe, a holding company of the first chain of jewelries, Histoire d’Or, bought Italian Stroili Oro. Romain is the son of Philippe Peninque. Attorney and tax consultant, he was too in the past a member of the GUD. He is a powerful man, according to several media outlets, Mrs. Le Pen’s gray eminence. The fact that his son Romain is currently head of Stroili Oro — member of which board is also Eric Belmonte, a friend and in the past business partner of Peninque — is sort of a paradox for the French far-right. On the one hand, its groupings are fingered out for being bowed to Mr. Putin’s wills. On the other, Thom Europe group was actually able to beat the bid for the acquisition of the Italian jewelry chain by Russian Vtb investment fund, in which the Kremlin has a 60 percent stake. “Mr. Putin is just one step away from Stroili Oro,” read the headlines of local newspapers back in 2014. Two years later, there were new scenarios: sanctions against the Russian Federation for the invasion of Crimea, and Mr. Putin’s fund stepping back and leaving the field to Thom group that would later bring Peninque to Italy.
Food bags, pickets, occupations. Italians First. The fascist organizations activism easily involves the people exhausted by the degradation of the peripheries. There is one interplay, however, that CasaPound considers indispensable: that is with intellectuals. To address culture Iannone’s turtles — after CasaPound’s symbol that features a stylized turtle — will go a long way. Information is their latest challenge. Their newspaper, Il Primato Nazionale (The National Primacy), has been online for a while, before publishing recently a monthly printed copy. A “sovereigntist” paper, as it states, it carried in its first issue a full front page photo of Democratic Party deputy Emanuele Fiano with the headline “The Taleban”. Editor Adriano Scianca, head of CasaPound’s culture branch, chose to reference to the law introduced by Mr. Fiano to ban fascist propaganda through symbols and fascist gestures.
The publishing company of Il Primato Nazionale is Sca 2080, with a deposited capital of 100,000 euros. The circulation of the first monthly issue was 20,000 copies. Social media exploded in congratulations: “It was time for a free newspaper.” Its first investigative story was on the “reds”, and on how violence has always been part of the DNA of anti-fascism. Who has an interest in investing in the new house organ of the “black” parties? Holding Minerva does, a company with quotas in several others. The two partners of the neo-fascist publishing house are Francesco Polacchi, CasaPound’s activist historian, and Mauro Polacchi, owner of an accounting firm in Rome and shareholder of the paper through Minerva. Following the lead of the ownership of Minerva’s shares, the company Eized came in focus. One of its partners is Lorenza Lei, the first female general director of RAI (Italy’s National Broadcasting Corporation). Primato Nazionale also manages the website for mixed martial arts lovers, MMA Europa. No wonder here: the cult of the body remains a value like during Mussolini’s times. As a matter of fact, CasaPound has its own circle of fighters, of militant-athletes that participate indeed in international competitions through the same movement that sometimes organizes matches in gyms all across Italy. In other words, it expands its income sources. Virility, vigor, beauty, the former implying an attention for aesthetic details, which in turn is critical to attract followers. This might be the reason for the Pivert stores chain to be one of CasaPound’s investments. Not labeled as fascist at all, Pivert is a brand of casual apparel launched by the same partners of the news outlet Primato Nazionale, the Polacchis. Over time, Pivert opened several offices. One in Rome with the same address of its editorial office, and one in Milan. It also has overseas resellers. “I’m proud to back a project based on the Made in Italy [concept]. So, dear guys, take a good look at it, also because we gals are getting organized to no longer go with [meaning: having sex] with guys who wear Made in China,” said showgirl Nina Moric, thus offering the brand a free promotion. That was music to the ears of the Iannone Boys, especially because in this way Mrs. Moric made official her being a VIP for the neo-fascist movement. It is not just Moric, though. Fans of the brand include several soccer and rugby players, as well as boxers. Mrs. Le Pen’s supporters were not going to miss the social opportunity, and in fact, Mr. Chatillon and Mr. De Boëldieu, precisely the two names that link CasaPound to the Front National, attended one of the 2015 collection events.
While Forza Nuova does not strive to increase its electoral appeal, and tends to increasingly narrow the niche where it gathers consensus, CasaPound’s leaders, vice versa, are increasingly trying to sell the narrative of their being inclusive politicians — like when they invite to their conferences journalists known for having very distant mindsets. In brief, they seek to legitimize themselves in the public debate. And perhaps through aesthetics too. Roman neo-fascists have their own trusted barber in a shop just a few yards away from the the ministery of Domestic Affairs. Bullfrog, it is called, like the hipster-style brand which is popular across Italy. The barbershops chain was founded by Romano Brida. Its majority shareholder is Antonio Percassi, president of Atakena and a successful entrepreneur. The Roman neo-fascist’s favorite barber is an affiliate of the Bullfrog brand, with no direct link to Percassi (its controlling company is called BF Rome). Nonetheless, the owners of the franchised shop are all close to the far-right movement. They also established business ties with another well-known CasaPound member, Marco Clemente. Mr. Clemente sits at the board of directors of Red Hook, a company of which the owners of the Roman barbershop are shareholders. Roman by birth, Milanese by adoption, Mr. Clemente obtained a seat at the Milan council when he supported Letizia Moratti for mayor with the PDL, the center-right party launched by Silvio Berlusconi in 2007. After being at the center of a controversy following a shocking lawful interception with an ‘Ndrangheta man, he approached CasaPound Milano and became its leader. He did not leave aside his businesses, as shows his executive role in Prince, a company in which Gianluca Iannone’s wife is shareholder. In short, this is another example of double-breasted camaraderie. Celtic imagery and money. Roman salutes a sense for business. From Rome to Milan and across to Paris, London, Cyprus and Crimea. With the blessing of Russian nationalists.
Testo tradotto da Guiomar Parada