Pizzo (extortion)

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In Southern Italy, the pizzo is protection money paid by a business to the Mafia, usually coerced and constituting extortion. The term is derived from the Sicilian pizzu ('beak'). To wet someone's beak (Sicilian language "fari vagnari 'u pizzu") is to pay protection money. The practice is widespread in Southern Italy, not only by the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, but also by the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria and the Camorra in Campania.

Another etymological explanation of the term is "beakerful", referring to the right of an overseer to scoop from the grain being threshed by peasants.[1] Paying the pizzo might also be in kind, for example by forcing a company to put someone (often a member of a criminal organisation) on the payroll, compulsory provision of services by Mafia controlled businesses as well as subcontracting to Mafia controlled companies.[2] Pizzo is distinct from "vig" which is an agreed to percentage on a transaction.

Businesses that refuse to pay the pizzo may suffer harassment, including arson. In return, businesses receive "protection" and can enlist neighbourhood Mafiosi to cut through bureaucracy or resolve disputes with other tradesmen. Collecting the pizzo keeps the Mafia in touch with the community and allows it to "control their territory".[3]


In the Palermo region the Mafia extorts more than 160 million euro a year from shops and businesses, with Sicily as a whole paying 10 times that figure, investigators estimate.[4] Around 80 per cent of Sicilian businesses pay up a pizzo.[5] According to an investigation by the Palermo University, the pizzo averages 457 euros (640 dollars) a month for retail traders and 578 for hotels and restaurants, but construction companies are asked to pay over 2,000 euros per month according to the economic daily Il Sole 24 Ore.[6]

In December 2007, the Palermo edition of the daily La Repubblica published a list of companies that paid the pizzo to the Mafia boss Salvatore Lo Piccolo – arrested in November 2007.[7] Payments ranged from 250 euro for smaller businesses to 30,000 euro for the bigger ones.[8]

Anti-pizzo movement[edit]

One of the first to refuse to pay protection money was Libero Grassi, a businessman from Palermo. On January 10, 1991, he wrote an open letter to the Giornale di Sicilia, the local newspaper. Published on the front page, it was addressed to an anonymous "Dear Extortionist." It caused an uproar. Nine months later, on August 29, 1991, Grassi was killed by the Mafia.[9][10][11][12]

In 2004, Addiopizzo – a grassroots social conscious-motivated consumer movement led by a generation whose adolescence was characterized by the murders of anti-Mafia judges, journalists and businessmen[13] – frustrated with the Mafia's stranglehold on the local economy and political life, peppered Palermo with stickers stating: "A people who pays the pizzo is a people without dignity." They organise demonstrations wearing black T-shirts with the Addiopizzo logo, a broken circle with an X in the middle and the words "consumo critico" (critical consumption).[14]


  1. ^ Paoli, Mafia Brotherhoods, p. 241
  2. ^ Paoli, Mafia Brotherhoods, p. 164
  3. ^ The pizzo racket, The Daily Telegraph, April 28, 2006
  4. ^ Mafia-free supermarket defies mob extortion, The Daily Telegraph, March 8, 2008
  5. ^ Italy's biggest business: the Mafia, The Daily Telegraph, October 24, 2007
  6. ^ To the Mafia's horror, pizzo-free shop opens Palermo doors, AFP, March 8, 2008
  7. ^ (Italian) Nell'archivio di Lo Piccolo la mappa degli affari del boss, La Repubblica (Palermo), December 27, 2007
  8. ^ (Italian) Tutti i nomi dei commercianti estorti, La Repubblica (Palermo), December 27, 2007
  9. ^ A Bullet For a Businessman, Business Week, November 4, 1991
  10. ^ (Italian) Libero Grassi, martire civile, La Sicilia, August 30, 2009
  11. ^ Jamieson, The Antimafia, pp. 35-36
  12. ^ (Italian) Un antieroe onesto e scomodo, La Repubblica, August 30, 1991
  13. ^ Sicilians grow defiant of Mafia, BBC News, April 11, 2008
  14. ^ One Hundred Defiant Shopkeepers Say "We Don’t Pay Protection Money", Corriere della Sera, May 5, 2006


External links[edit]