SYDNEY (Reuters) - Two Australian media organisations reported on Monday that Australian politics has been infiltrated at high levels by the Italian mafia, although there was no suggestion of direct links between lawmakers and the criminal syndicate.
A year-long investigation by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Fairfax media found one element of the Calabrian mafia, known as 'Ndrangheta, had used a number of well-known donors to parties on both sides of the Australian political divide to legitimise its activities.
The report said a man with "deep mafia associations" met then-prime minister John Howard and other top party officials at a fundraising event for the conservative Liberal Party in the early 2000s.
There was no suggestion that Howard knew of the man's alleged criminal links.
In another incident, the son of an alleged mafia boss did work experience at the Australian embassy in Rome while former Liberal minister Amanda Vanstone was ambassador, it said.
Again, there was no suggestion Vanstone knew of the link.
According to a confidential 2013 police report, 'Ndrangheta had used a number of well-known party donors to put a "legitimate public face" on its activities", the report said.
The 'Ndrangheta and fellow Calabrian mafia groups have long been powerful economic forces in southern Italy due to their role as one of Europe's biggest importers of South American cocaine. Their influence has spread north during the current economic slump to cities including Rome, Milan and Bologna, where it has used its wealth to buy political influence.
Italy's national anti-mafia prosecutors' office said in a report in February that companies "capitalized by the 'Ndrangheta" over time became "front runners in the different sectors where they operate", which include legal gambling, trucking, and the restaurant and hotel trade. [ID:nL5N0VY59C]
(Reporting By Jane Wardell; Editing by Paul Tait)