A groundbreaking new report by researchers in Essex has provided the first analysis into the expansion of Italian mafias across Europe.

The report, published by the University of Essex, highlights how criminal groups embed themselves in countries and operate across borders, and the challenges of policing mafia-type crime.

Using Italy as a starting point, the research focused on seven countries - the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Romania, and Switzerland.

For mafia groups, territories outside Italy are places where they can consolidate certain business or venture into new ones.

The report revealed how mafia groups operate very differently in each country.

East Anglian Daily Times: Dr Anna Sergi led the researchDr Anna Sergi led the research (Image: Uni of Essex)

It found Spain is often used by mafia members who are on the run due to its climate, language and accessibility and Belgium and the Netherlands are attractive countries to operate within due to their logistical networks and access to international ports.

While mafia associates in Romania pursue a particularly large and diverse range of activities including drugs and human trafficking, IT fraud and money laundering.

The UK was the only country analysed where there was no trace of involvement of Italian mafias in the drug trade.

But the city of London's banking and financial system has been considered the main drive for the interests of mafia groups for money laundering activities and reinvestments, according to the report.

Anna Sergi, criminologist and mafia expert at the University of Essex, who led the research with assistant Alice Rizzuti, said: "This project and its final report are unique.

"It is the first attempt to systematise available data on Italian mafias in Europe and to pair it with first-hand data from a variety of authorities, in Italy and in Europe, working with different cross-border policing and judicial institutions.

“The analysis contained in this report is valuable to policy makers in Europe as well as to students and researchers on the subject to both deepen the knowledge on Italian mafia mobility but also practically thinking about how to overcome existing challenges of cooperation.”

Dr Sergi’s team produced the report using open data and primary resources and had privileged partnerships with the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation Eurojust and the European Union's law enforcement agency Europol.