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Scandal Rocks the TAV High Speed Rail Project in Italy

By CDCA (Centro Documentazione Conflitti Ambientali).

In recent months, allegations of corruption and criminal infiltration in major infrastructure projects have been making headlines in Italy. The string of scandals started in May, when several entrepreneurs were arrested for corruption in the public procurement system for the next Universal Exhibition (Expo 2015) in Milan. In June, new accusations of corruption followed by arrests hit the Veneto region, involving some important players involved in the MOSE project, the biggest public infrastructural work in Italy currently in construction in the Venetian lagoon. Last but not least, in early July a judicial investigation touched on the highly contested High Speed Train Turin-Lyon project (Treno ad Alta Velocità, TAV).

The TAV project: High Speed to Nowhere

The Turin–Lyon high-speed railway is a planned 220 km/h railway line that will connect the two cities and link the Italian and French high-speed rail networks. The segment is a priority infrastructure project of the European Union (EU), as the line will form the cross-border segment of the axis connecting Western Europe to the east completing the Trans-European Rail network by developing passenger and goods transport.

The Lyon-Turin section entails the construction of a 57 km long cross-border base tunnel crossing the Alps, starting at St Jean de Maurienne (France) and exiting in the Valley of Susa (Italy), which will be one of the longest train tunnels in the world. The project has been the source of heavy criticism and intense mobilization, especially concentrated in the Val de Susa but also across Italy under the banner of the No-TAV  movement, which has grown to become one of the strongest mobilizations in the country and one of the most important social movements in Italy in the past 2o years.

TAV criminals and crimes

TAV = MAFIA? as it is claimed and written on the Val Susa mountains by the No TAV movement.

tav= mafia_nuova

Investigations on the ‘Ndrangheta´ activities – a mafia type criminal organization centred in Calabria – found widespread infiltration of the criminal group in the ​public procurement system of the province of Turin. On July 1, 2014 an operation conducted by the ROS (Special operations group) and the District Anti-mafia Direction (Dda) led to 20 arrests for the alleged crime of mafia-type association, extortion, usury and illegal trafficking of waste.

The District Anti-Mafia Prosecutor of the Piedmont capital has also discovered an attempt by organized crime to infiltrate the public procurement process specifically for the TAV Turin-Lyon line. Wiretapping proved that the goal of the group was to take possession of all transport and earthmoving jobs of the Chiomonte construction site. The inquiry involves entrepreneurs engaged in the work of the high-speed line in Val Susa, a building contractor owner of a quarry with adjacent crushing plant located in the Val Susa and the owner of Italcoge SpA, a company that worked at the construction site of the Lyon-Turin and went bankrupt in 2011.

Until the present, the Judge for the preliminary investigations has issued twenty pre-trial detention orders. As usually happens, there are conflicting narratives on these events. On the one hand, the mainstream media talks about a successful operation that has blocked mafia infiltration in the TAV works. On the other hand, alternative media highlight that some suspects have already carried out works in the construction site and the lack of transparency of the companies involved in the works generally.

Criminalizing a movement

The investigation into criminality related to procurement and TAV contracts is a great vindication for the activists, who themselves have been heavily criminalized due to their activism and have even been branded as terrorists.

 On June 27, 2014 the Supreme Court rejected the accusation of “actions aimed at terroristic attacks” at the TAV construction site against four No TAV activists arrested in December 2013. Following the appeal lodged by the defence lawyers, the Court affirmed that the modest scale of damage attributed to the NO TAV members does not correspond to an event of extreme risk and thus not to the legal notion of terrorism. In detail, the Supreme Court criticized the presentation of events as not sufficiently reasoned and that conclusions were legally incorrect. The accusation now has to be reformulated.

These ungrounded accusations of “terrorism” demonstrate how activist work is increasingly being criminalized and judicialized in an effort to foreclose spaces for dissent and to escalate the assault on the movement. Branding NO-TAV as a ‘terrorist’ movement was a move obviously intended to scare its supporters, turn public opinion against the people of Val di Susa, and legitimize violence to repress it. On the other front, the emerging evidence of the high risk of criminal infiltration in Piedmont procurement has now confirmed longstanding concerns clearly expressed by the TAV movement, further undermining the accusations against the social movement and strengthening their arguments against the realization of the mega project.

This turn of events that joins recent scandals on other infrastructural projects, such Expo 2015 and MOSE, will have echoes for social movements organized against mega projects in Italy.

Those projects are regulated by the 2001 Legge Obiettivo and have the same modus operandi that provides special power to extraordinary commissioners. This system reduces the possibility of State control, while opening the doors to the influence of corruption and criminal organization, at the same time as it closes off any involvement and participation of citizens in decisions which concern their environment.

The recent scandals should act as a wake-up call for the need for overhauling and rethinking this top-down system.  In the meantime, the geognostic tunnel is under construction and protests to stop the project are still ongoing. The question of whether this news and possible further investigation will threaten the TAV project and other mega projects in construction in Italy remains to be seen.

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