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BBC NEWS AMERICA Gennaro Panzuto: The Lancashire hideaway of an Italian mafia boss (COPY)

In a cupboard, in a caravan park in northern England, there is a pair of Italian leather dancing shoes. Every now and then they are brought out and polished up, before their owner spins across Northern Soul dance floors. Those shoes are treasured by their owner, a hard-working man called Mick.The man who gave them to…

BBC NEWS AMERICA

In a cupboard, in a caravan park in northern England, there is a pair of Italian leather dancing shoes. Every now and then they are brought out and polished up, before their owner spins across Northern Soul dance floors. Those shoes are treasured by their owner, a hard-working man called Mick.The man who gave them to him was his new Italian neighbour. His name was Gennaro Panzuto.People liked the gregarious charismatic Italian guy trying to grow pots of basil in the wind-swept chill of rural Lancashire.And Gennaro liked the caravan park because it was a good place to live quietly. It was a good place to hide from the truth written in blood on the streets of Naples.But that truth was soon to catch up with him.It is June 2019, about 12 years on from when he gave those shoes to Mick, and I’m waiting inside a maximum security prison.I’m almost as far north in the Italian Alps as I can get before they start serving French cheese. It’s claustrophobic inside the bleached hot walls of the dilapidated jail. The only view is of the sky and – if you can find a decent window – the stunning mountain peaks.Prison near Aosta, northern ItalyA jailor unlocks an internal gate, and Gennaro Panzuto walks towards me.The 45-year-old is fit and lightly-built. He’s not in a prison uniform, but a pair of snug jeans and a designer denim shirt and trainers.We exchange pleasantries. And then we’re down to business: the confessions of a mafia man. He’s got an important story to tell about his life – and questions to answer about what on earth he was doing in the UK all those years ago.We know it is a story that starts with appalling crimes in Naples, and ends with a mafia summit in the middle of Lancashire. But will he be honest and straight?What crimes have you committed, I ask?Gennaro Panzuto talks to Dominic Casciani“My crimes range from murder, attempted murder and mafia association, extortion, drug trafficking, arms trafficking and money laundering.”How many murders were you involved in? How many did you personally commit?This is, after all, supposedly a confession. Panzuto hesitates.More than 10?“No, less.”More than five?“No, wait…”Panzuto says he wants to be frank – but his frankness is tempered by an apparent reluctance to incriminate himself beyond what he has already been convicted for. He insists that his time in prison has given him time to think – and he wants to tell his story as a warning to others not to follow his path.Gennaro Panzuto was born in the chaotic city of Naples in 1974.His family’s tiny apartment was in La Torretta, an enclave of dirt-poor families amid the rich elite near the waterfront.It was in an area known as the “Bassi”, or “The Lows”, a maze of dark, damp alleys at the lowest levels of the city’s ancient streets. Gennaro Panzuto as a young manIf you lived in the Bassi, you were looked down upon, metaphorically and literally, by those above you wealthy enough to inhabit the sun-kissed rooftops. He wanted to escape the poverty. And like so many other teenage boys there, his route out would be crime. By the time he was 14, he had discovered he was an efficient thief. He had the guile and brass neck to steal watches – particularly Rolexes – straight off the wrists of the unsuspecting rich. “It’s all about being cunning and sharp,” he recalls, showing me how he would steal a watch as he leapt from a moped. Panzuto was so good at it, the people he was selling them on to asked him to move to Spain, where there were richer pickings. From Monday to Friday he would be stealing watches. Then on Saturday he would bring home his haul, and party.“I was really renowned. That was my bad luck.” It was his bad luck because he had been talent-spotted by the Camorra – Naples’ mafia clans.Gennaro Panzuto was born in the chaotic seafront city of Naples in 1974.His family’s tiny apartment was in La Torretta, an enclave of dirt-poor families amid the rich elite near the waterfront.It was in an area known as the “Bassi”, or “The Lows”, a maze of dark, damp alleys at the lowest levels of the city’s ancient streets. If you lived in the Bassi, you were looked down upon, metaphorically and literally, by those above you wealthy enough to inhabit the sun-kissed rooftops. He wanted to escape the poverty. And like so many other teenage boys there, his route out would be crime. By the time he was 14, he had discovered he was an efficient thief. He had the guile and brass neck to steal watches – particularly Rolexes – straight off the wrists of the unsuspecting rich. Gennaro Panzuto as a young man“It’s all about being cunning and sharp,” he recalls, showing me how he would steal a watch as he leapt from a moped. Panzuto was so good at it, the people he was selling them on to asked him to move to Spain, where there were richer pickings. From Monday to Friday he would be stealing watches. Then on Saturday he would bring home his haul, and party.“I was really renowned. That was my bad luck.” It was his bad luck because he had been talent-spotted by the Camorra – Naples’ mafia clans.The familyThe Camorra are completely different to the Hollywood stereotype of a single all-powerful family controlling an entire city or country.Dr Felia Allum, of the University of Bath, has spent her career researching the clans – and their unique criminal alliances across Naples.“In every district you would find a criminal family that controlled the territory,” she says. But a family alone was weak. And so across Naples there are wider, shifting alliances.Felia Allum“What those alliances tended to do, in order to be powerful and strong, was to recruit smaller clans.“That’s the flexibility and the fluidity of the Camorra.”Panzuto’s introduction to the Camorra came via an aunt who had married into the mob.Her husband, Rosario Piccirillo, headed one of the clans in his impoverished district and managed tax-free cigarette smuggling which made huge profits for his particular alliance in the city.But Rosario wasn’t a brilliant leader, and had few foot soldiers to do his bidding. He realised he needed to train an apprentice whom he could trust with his life, to help the clan survive.Rosario PiccirilloPanzuto was called home from Spain for what would become a life-changing meeting.He met his Uncle Rosario at Mergelina Marina – a playground of the rich on the edge of the clan’s territory.There, Panzuto was introduced to a senior Camorra fixer – a man who solved problems for the alliance. This man had a proposal for the street thief. Rivals were planning to shoot Rosario in a growing tit-for-tat battle for control of that part of the city.“Kill the person who wants to kill him,” Panzuto was told. “You have to do it because you’re his family.” Panzuto agreed to become a killer.As he told me about his decision, he did so in such a matter-of-fact way that it didn’t make any sense to me.Didn’t he think it was wrong? He was being asked to become a murderer – and he didn’t stop to say no?“When you grow up in the world into which I was born, this [decision] was normal. I grew up with rules which meant that when I was bound to someone, I was also capable of murder.”Panzuto kept to his promise to protect the family from enemies.The first rival clansman he was told to target escaped with his life – but only because the police arrested him first.But it wasn’t long before he ambushed another Camorrista and shot him dead. It was his job, he says, and he got on with it without thinking too much about the enormity of his crimes.Today – after 12 years in prison – Panzuto insists he finally realises the horror of what he did. He’s been through several periods of psychotherapy designed to make violent offenders take responsibility for their actions.He says he’s also put up walls inside his head to cope with his own inhumanity – but there are memories he can never escape.“I don’t remember the faces,” he says. “I remember the dull thud of the bodies falling after you’ve shot them.“I remember the screams of the children, the women, ringing in my ears.”Over the next decade, Panzuto came to play a leading role in both extortion, and shipping drugs on his home turf, La Torretta.And by 2005 Uncle Rosario was so up to his neck in police problems that the apprentice had to take over, to stop the clan collapsing. Pietro Ioia is a former drug trafficker gone straight. He had met Panzuto during his rise. He says the young mobster was so assertive and quick to act that other crooks nicknamed him “Terramoto” – Earthquake.“Panzuto was really respected by the other clans and had value as a boss. His Camorra career was intense – but short,” says Ioia.Pietro IoiaIn the winter of 2005-06, a new inter-clan war erupted, and Panzuto’s allies asked for his help holding the La Sanita area. Michele Del Prete is a senior anti-mafia prosecutor who investigated Panzuto. He says the young leader took advantage of the opportunity to make his mark.“Panzuto needed to assert his own criminal character – his criminal weight,” he says: “As a killer, but also as someone who wanted to replace his uncle as a manager. He wanted to head a clan that could extend to other areas of the city.”Over that winter, there was a spate of shootings and murders, as gangs tried to kill each other’s leaders and foot soldiers.Eventually one of these murders – of a gangster named Graziano Borelli – could be linked directly to Panzuto.  Graziano Borelli (l) and a scene from a murder during the inter-clan warThe police had intercepted a conversation in which Panzuto had told his gunmen to carry out the murder, and they had enough evidence to launch a blitz of arrests. But Panzuto was nowhere to be seen. He had fled the country.Park lifeThe average temperature at the height of spring in Naples is 24C.In Lancashire it’s 16C. And if there’s one thing that Italians moan about when they come to England – other than the food – it’s the weather.But Preston, in Lancashire, was where Panzuto fled to in the early months of 2006. So why this unlikely corner of England? Panzuto explained it to me during our prison meeting.The Camorra has links around Europe, in order to do business. Some of its profits come from the illegal tax-free movement of goods in and out of Naples, and the clans do that with the help of overseas partners. One of Panzuto’s closest associates in Naples had made deep connections to an organised crime gang in north-west England.“These English guys were scrambling to meet me… then we went to the pub”This gang – made up almost entirely of British men – was making a lot of money without needing to be violent on the streets.One of their scams involved shipping shoes into Naples without paying any VAT – the Camorra would sell them on and undercut legitimate traders. The British gang was headed by a businessman who appeared to be an entirely upstanding member of his community. He had a lawyer who was as bent as they come and an accountant who cooked the books in case the tax man came looking.Panzuto had met the British businessman in Naples.As the police closed in on him after the Borelli murder, Panzuto’s British friends offered him sanctuary in Lancashire. This presented him with two opportunities – a chance to hide out for a while, and also to learn about a lucrative business.When he arrived at Liverpool John Lennon Airport, the British boss had a special welcome for his Camorra friend. A Rolls Royce was there to collect him.“You don’t know how much I smiled,” Panzuto says. “These English guys – and t
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