THE Mafia is now Italy’s biggest business enterprise, a corporate brand with an annual turnover of €140 billion ($AU174 billion) according to a report.

The country’s four Mafia groups have broken out of their traditional strongholds and spread across the whole country, taking advantage of the economic crisis to snap up ailing businesses and ramp up their loan-shark operations.

They have estimated cash reserves of €65 billion and estimated annual profits of €100 billion, about 7 per cent of Italy’s GDP, says a study released by Confesercenti, an employers’ association.

It seems the average mobster is no longer a machine gun-toting hoodlum but a savvy businessman with a smart phone and a sophisticated knowledge of finance. ”Mafia Inc is Italy’s No.1 bank with €65 billion in liquidity,” the association said in its report, Criminality’s Grip on Business.

With the economic crisis meaning banks are loath to lend, Mafia dons have profited as desperate businesses turn to loan sharks demanding crippling rates of interest.

”Among the illegal activities of Mafia organisations is loan-sharking, which with the economic crisis has become a national emergency,” said Marco Venturi, the president of Confesercenti. ”According to our estimates, loan-sharking caused the closure in 2010 of 1800 businesses and destroyed thousands of jobs. Right now, Mafia Inc. is the only business enterprise willing to make substantial investments.”

Small business owners with tight margins and limited cash flow were the most vulnerable – some 200,000 had fallen victim to usury, Mr Venturi said.

They were also being hit by extortion and straightforward robbery by the mob – at a rate of one crime a minute.

Confesercenti, which represents 270,000 small-to-medium businesses, said the new technocrat government of Mario Monti had to help firms ”retake territory occupied by the Mafia”.

But it will be an uphill battle. The mafia has become a super brand that controls everything from gambling to construction and the disposal of industrial and household waste, making it a powerful force in the political and economical layout of crisis hit Italy.Times have certaintly changed.

The mafia as depicted in The Godfather.