Mafia is Italy's biggest business

The mafia in Italy -- that made around 140 billion euro (around $178 billion) in 2010 through money lending, extortion and robbery -- generated far greater money than Eni, the country's oil giant, according to a new report.

The report by Confesercenti, a business association representing 270,000 small and medium Italian businesses, said the Rome-based Eni, one of Europe's top multinational oil exploration companies, registered around 99 billion euros ($126 billion) in sales in 2010.

The report said the economic crisis has been a fruitful time for organised criminals to exploit businesses who are looking for funds at a time when bank loans have dried up.

Out of desperation, such businesses turn to mobsters who provide loans at crippling interest rates.

"The state is working on it, but there needs to be a change with the institutions," said Confesercenti president Marco Venturi.

Strapped for cash and unable to continue making interest payments to criminals, around 1,800 businesses were prompted to shut down in 2010, "erasing tens-of-thousands of jobs", the report said.

Merchants are the most exposed to loan sharking with "around 200,000 victims suffering 1,300 crimes a day. Practically 50 per hour and almost one per minute", according to the report.

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