Dear friends, I'm writing this with the deepest regret and with a strong sense of defeat. In the last years I have participated in meetings and debates on organised crime in Northern Italy. I have always done it with the highest enthusiasm, especially in the smallest towns and villages, even if there were very few people to listen to me. It was for example in little villages around Milan, where there is the strong belief that nothing happens, and that the biggest issue is the high or law rate of immigration. But these rural areas are the preferred and invisible thriving site of the most important 'ndrangheta families in Lombardia.
I have always participated without asking for a fee, and as I have never written books about it, people did not have to buy my book either. And my enthusiasm grew when I was in front of a younger audience, during the Summer camps of the anti-mafia association Libera, and with the young researchers of the University course about organised crime of the State University of Milan led by Nando Dalla Chiesa. I'm not a professor nor an expert, I'm just a reporter writing crime news, and I have a passion for genealogical trees, old documents, and brand new bar receipts.
Every time I was invited – I don't keep track of the invitations, but I guess we are close to 100 meetings – I participated with enthusiasm, with gratitude.
I am not an expert nor a professor, I have always tried to apply the journalistic method to these meetings, telling what it won't be reported in big newspapers: who is behind that bar in the village square, or behind that company that made business with the garbage boss, who is that local politician who often meets members of organised crime. It was a kind of local narrative, about our neighbours, about mafia in Northern Italy.
But now, unluckily, I have to stop.
In the last few years, beside the lawsuits that I receive for the articles I write for Corriere della Sera (and God always bless the skills, the professionalism, and the endless patience of lawyer Malavenda), I have also started to receive lawsuits for what I said in meetings and debates. Sometimes, people were in the room, some other times, they received videos and recordings from someone sitting there. Being those public events, I know it's part of the game.
I usually participate being a journalist but as a private citizen, so, I personally cover the legal expenses. Not everybody knows it, but if you are sued, if you receive a meritless lawsuits – as 99.9 per cent of the cases end with a dismissal as there is no base for a defamation case – the plaintiff has the possibility to oppose to the dismissal. It means that, even if the prosecutor doesn't see the crime and asks the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, you as a defendant have to hire a lawyer to assist you during the dismissal hearing: these hearings end in 99999.99% of cases with a dismissal. But in order to have that, you'll have to have paid a lawyer, to have prepared a defence paper, and produce thousands of pages of legal documents and evidence, to defend what you have written or said, and obviously to have paid for all this.
I have always considered this rule a bit weird.
In practice, it means that there will be a policeman or a carabiniere who will come in search for you, to identify you, to let you sign the appointment of a lawyer, to notify you copy of the call at court. Well, now, I'm so used to the procedure, that they, the policemen, know me very well, they don't even visit me but they call me and ask me to pop in, so, I go to the police station and they don't have to come to my place. In the beginning, the doorkeeper thought I was like Pablo Escobar, as he used to see policemen and carabinieri coming to search for me almost every week.
Originally, I was sued only for what I wrote in the newspaper, and I am lucky that Corriere della Sera has a good legal defence. Now, I am sued for what I say in public, for what I say during interviews on tv. In my life, like many other colleagues, I have been sued more than 50 times, by mafia men, crime groups and individuals, killers, robbers, corrupt politicians, non-corrupt politicians, public administrators, relatives of mafia men, policemen, carabinieri, businessmen, bar owners, by the parents of a boy who committed suicide. Once, for one single article about the Swiss companies belonging to the Papalia, I have been sued 6 times by 6 different people: the boss, his wife, his daughter, his son-in-law, his figurehead...
I agree that the right to sue is a legitimate one. But so far, no judge has ever decided against me in all my cases. Anyway, when you win, you are not reimbursed for the unjust allegations that you suffered. You were right. And that's it.
But now I'm tired, I'm fed up. That's why I need a break. I can't spend my days writing statements of defence, trace documents and pieces of evidence and facts, and on top of that only hope that things will go well. Because, in the end, every hearing in front of the judge is open to any result, even if you think you have all the chances to win.
There is the plaintiff, there is the judge, there is the lawyer, but in the end you are the defendant. And if things go wrong, you'll have to face a trial. It is not that I feel personally stalked, it's a general problem in Italy: a journalist can be sued even if he/she tells the truth. The plaintiff doesn't risk anything. They try, they pay a lawyer, that's it.
I think that self-censorship is the worst thing for a journalist. But that's the only thing I can do now. I couldn't participate in an event without telling everything I know; journalists must be precise, and tell what they know, if they know it's true.
That's why I prefer to stop. I hope you can understand.
In private, I'll be always available, for a document to be found in my archives, for a dialogue, for anything. But the rest has to stop, unluckily.