Mafia groups are infiltrating and undermining Italy’s holiday industry, the tourism minister said on Thursday, pointing to a new report estimating that mobsters are laundering billions of euros through the sector.

Research group Demoskopika said the mafia was set to rake in around 2.2 billion euros ($2.64 billion) from the tourism sector this year and was preying on hotels and restaurants that were struggling to survive the coronavirus crisis.

“This is a worrying report. Mafia infiltration is heavily damaging a sector which has already been hurt by the pandemic,” Tourism Minister Massimo Garavaglia said in a statement.

Italy is home to several mafia groups, all headquartered in southern regions, including the ‘Ndrangheta, which is based in Calabria and has overtaken Sicily’s Cosa Nostra group to become the most powerful crime gang in the country.

Demoskopika estimated that the ‘Ndrangheta would pocket almost 40% of illegal revenues from the sector.

Tourism contributes an estimated 13% to Italian gross domestic product (GDP) but operators lost around 53 billion euros in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, the Unioncamere small business association says.

Demoskopika said it believed some 4,450 businesses were at risk of falling into mafia hands, with mobsters looking to take over hotels and restaurants and use them as a front to launder cash from their drugs and extortion rackets.

“More than 13% of companies in the tourism sector are at risk of default due to COVID and could suffer the aggressive strategies of economic infiltration by organised criminals,” said Raffaele Rio, the head of Demoskopika.

($1 = 0.8290 euros) (Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Hugh Lawson)

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Photo Credit: Calabria (pictured) is home to mafia groups that have infiltrated Italy's tourism industry. Leonora Giovanazzi / Flickr