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Mafia. Why the reporter Federica Angeli is under police protection in Rome

Journalist from La Repubblica testified on a gunfight. Threatened by the clans under investigation in Ostia. She filed a complaint and says: I had to do it, and would do so again

The crime and judicial reporter working in the Roman newsroom of the daily La Repubblica, Ms Federica Angeli has been living under police protection since July 17th, 2013 due to death threats she received two months earlier, in Ostia, while gathering information for her newspaper.

The reporter was conducting an investigation on the racket of the coastal baths, but this is not the only reason that is forcing Federica to lead a vaulted life. The night of July 15th, in fact, she was an accidental eyewitness to a gunfight in which those involved came from the same environments of the racket. When questioned by the Carabinieri, Federica told what she had seen and from that day, intimidations and threats became more severe. With her inquiries, and with her testimony, Federica had began revealing the criminal underworld along the Roman coast.

THE INVESTIGATION – In the spring of 2013, along with other colleagues, Federica carried on a journalistic investigation for La Repubblica, gathering information in the field. The issue was the partition of the coast of Ostia between local mafias, and with the complicity of local politicians. The investigation was then published on Repubblica.it on June 28th. The reporter suffered her first death threats, just as she spoke with the characters involved while gathering information.

As she told Ossigeno, “I began to explore the issue with some field testing. I had discovered that, just before the beginning of the summer season, the license for the management of one of the beach resorts of Ostia, L’Orsa Maggiore, had been withdrawn from the previous owners, who had managed the venue for many years, and within five days the license was entrusted to representatives of one of the three historic local criminal clans, the Spada clan. I also found out who was in charge of the concessions for the beach resorts: a Mr Aldo Papalini, technical director of the Ostia office. They told me that it was him who transferred the license, and I also went to see him.”

THE FIRST THREAT – First, the reporter went to the beach resort L’Orsa Maggiore asking questions on the company books. “It was May 23rd, 2013. Along with two collaborators of La Repubblica I presented myself at the entrance of the venue. We had a camera. The collaborators kept it on, but kept it pointing downwards so as not to give the impression that we were filming. I qualified as a journalist and asked to speak with Spada. They told me that there was no one named Spada. But I recognized one of the men who were in front of me: it was Armando Spada. While talking, they realized that the camera was on and immediately got spooked. Armando Spada immediately intimated to hand over the recorded cassette, and said that if I didn’t, he would have shot me in the head. And because it was him saying so, he added, I had to believe him.”

“I didn’t know what to say. I tried to minimize and take time. But the men blocked the operators and parted me from them. Armando Spada and another man dragged me brusquely into a small room. The searched me, and asked me many questions. They wanted to know what I really wanted from them. I did not know how to get out of that situation and I also felt stressed of the responsibility of having put in that situation my young collaborators. I tried to reassure those people who exercised on me a strong psychological pressure that was holding me captive. I reassured them about my intentions. I said that I would have handed over the registration and the thing would have ended there.”

“The interrogation lasted for two long hours, until I finally managed to calm them down. I was brought back in front of my collaborators and I told them to delete the recording. My collaborators were able to make people believe that a technical error had occurred and nothing was recorded and that the tape was blank. So they let us go. However the boys had ‘saved’ the movie. They also recorded the threats. A few days later we posted that video on Repubblica.it.”

THE SECOND THREAT – The journalist reported the incident to the head of the online news service who supervised her work, and agree with him to continue with the investigation and reserve the right to denounce the facts in a second moment. As Federica told, “so, just two days after the threats by Spada  I went to interview Paolo Papagni, partner and brother of the president of Assobalneari, the company that represents the managers of the beach resorts. I asked him, in front of the camera, if it was true, as was being said, that he arranged for the change of hands of the licensing and favouring the Spada buy granting it to him. Moreover, some sources had told me that he could have been behind the five arson attacks against other beach resorts in the area, and I told him this.”

“At that point, Papagni asked me to turn the camera off, told me to let the whole thing drop and threatened me. He said that if I posted pictures of the interview, he would have used his powerful connections to see me fired from La Repubblica. The next day, he repeated the same intimidating phrases over the phone.” At that point Federica went to report the threats.

THE COMPLAINT – “On May 30th I went to the Carabinieri station of Ostia and presented a formal complaint for both episodes of threats. As proof I gave a copy of the video recordings. I still remember how shocked I was when, three hours later, I received a call from an ex convict who knew me. He knew that I was at the station and asked me why I had denounced Papagni. How did he know?”

THE SHOOTING –  On July 15th repubblica.it published the two videos of Federica Angeli, and for which she was threatened. July 15th  is a crucial date of this story. That night, out of the gambling den ‘Italy Poker’ in Ostia, henchmen of two of the mafia clans vying for the racketeering of venues faced each other with knives and guns. Federica Angeli was, by chance, an eyewitness.

“I was at home when I heard from the streets a man who was screaming: ‘Stop, don’t shoot!’. Then I heard two shots echo. I looked out from the balcony, like so many other people, and I saw the scene. On the streets there were men running around. On one side there were two members of the Spada, and on the other side there were two men of the Triassi clan. There was also Mr Marco Esposito, also known as Barboncino (i.e. poodle), who belonged to the former Fasciani gang. It turned out that he had been stabbed in the shoulder, in the lung and in the jugular and had fired two shots, injuring Ottavio Spada on the calf, who was accompanied by Romoletto Spada. The Triassi, however, were the worst hit.”

“I then immediately called the police and took to the streets where I gathered all the information I could. A few hours later I was summoned to the station of the Carabinieri of Ostia. I was asked to report what I had seen. On July 16th, the police asked me to go back to the station and asked for more details and for the signing of the complaint. That day La Repubblica published my article on the shooting in Ostia.”

ASSIGNMENT OF POLICE PROTECTION – “In the afternoon of July 16th, when I joined the newsroom of my newspaper, I went to the desk and broke out in a cry. Colleagues were around me, and I let my tension go with them. I told them that I was very worried about my personal safety. My newsroom chief (i.e. crime news of Rome) immediately understood the severity of the situation and presented it to the Prefect, who shared the assessment. So on the morning of July 17th I was assigned to police protection, who since then has accompanied me in every step. From that day my life changed. I am no longer as free as before, and this weighs on me. But I’ve never had the slightest doubt that I could have behaved differently: I could not help but publish what I had found and say what I had seen with my own eyes.”

Federica’s investigation helped reawaken the attention of the investigators on the evolution of racketeering in Ostia. After months and months, a judicial inquiry into the affairs of the new boss ended in a large police operation that targeted the very clans that had filled the reporter’s investigation. “I was under protection for just four days, on July 21st, 2013 , when – she said – the operation began. The mobile team made ​​a big haul in Ostia, arresting 51 people, including the entire Fasciani and Triassi clans.”

In 2012, Federica had already experienced a risky period. She had been threatened, and had been subjected to some protection following the publication of an investigation into the NOCS in which she revealed a story of physical and psychological violence within their barracks, and the behind the scenes of the shooting of October 17th, 1997 between the kidnappers of the entrepreneur Mr Soffiantini and men of the special forces, during which the agent Simone Donatoni died, supposedly hit by “friendly fire”. Even that dangerous situation was handled by Federica together with her newspaper. Fortunately, the tension over the situation faded and the reporter went back to her normal life, her work and her investigations, with a particular attention on what goes on in Ostia, the town twenty kilometres from the city centre and where there are the closest beaches to the city of Rome. Ostia is also where Federica lives with her family. A series of crimes acted as warning signs, particularly shootings, murders, and arson attacks, that exposed how in time the activity of some criminal groups had acquired mafia methods as these were interested in getting their hands on the lucrative activities connected to the concessions of the beach resorts.

OTHER THREATS – The journalist has been subjected to intimidation in the following months , while under escort. “In October 2013 Ottavio and Romoletto Spada, who finished under house arrest following the shooting in July, had returned to free. On October 16th, they presented themselves under the balcony of my house and drank and cheered ostentatiously, looking at me while I was out on the balcony smoking a cigarette” the journalist says. “Some time later, in the middle of the night, I heard people shouting in the streets near my window: ‘You shit! The shits die!’. I had sold my old car to a private party a couple of months before. A few days later, the new owner told me that it had been set on fire. I presented a complaint for this episode also. One day Romoletto Spada met my son and in front of him made ​​a threatening gesture: he made the sign of the cross.”

Unfortunately, the tension has never eased since that July 17th, 2013. “Last evident intimidation that I suffered was on March, 11th of this year. I was in a bar in Ostia, together with two friends. Outside there were bodyguards supervising. At one point, while I was talking with my friends, I felt my blood run cold. Inside the bar there was Romolo Spada who was staring at me. When I got up to leave the bar, he stopped me barring the road in front of me with his arms folded. It was a way to tell me that he always knows where I am and that, if he wants, he can come close to me.”

“It’s been a year since I suffered the first threats. The people who threatened me move freely. I hope that all this will end. That those who threatened me will go to trial. I hope – said the journalist – that this situation will get unstuck and I can return to my freedom. This condition weighs on me a lot, but I’m not regretting anything. If I could go back I would do everything exactly the way I did.”

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