A dozen Italian universities have joined forces to study and analyse the Mafia and other criminal organisations such as the Camorra and 'Ndrangheta.
The programme, also covering new crime syndicates from Eastern Europe and China, is being coordinated by the National Anti-Mafia Commission. Findings will be used by government agencies, the judiciary and the police in planning anti-Mafia strategies.
Senator Roberto Centaro, president of the commission, said: "The faculties most involved will be law and political science. But we also expect important results from the economics faculties, particularly in studying the methods used to recycle money from criminal activities."
The universities will study the methods, ramifications and sociological phenomena of organised crime and its economic mechanisms. They will act as consultants to the commission, with reports, seminars and training projects to help legislators and law enforcers deal with Mafia activities such as protection, drugs and arms trafficking, political corruption and prostitution.
The universities taking part are La Sapienza, Florence, Naples, Bologna, Catania, Perugia, Turin, Salerno, Calabria, Bologna, Bergamo and Urbino.
Some of these - Naples, Salerno, Calabria and Catania, in Sicily - are on organised crime's home turf, where protection rackets are part of everyday life.
"The university cannot bury its head in the sand," said a spokesman for Catania, who wished to remain anonymous.
"In our university, there have already been studies on this subject, so we will be developing a field that already exists. We will be working on the level of academic analysis of data supplied by shopkeepers' associations, police and the Anti-Mafia Commission itself. We will not be sending bright-eyed students round to shopkeepers to ask how much protection they pay and to whom."