Italian police have seized assets worth $1.7bn from a Sicilian renewable energy developer in the biggest ever seizure of mafia-linked assets.

The police said on Wednesday that the assets, which include 43 wind and solar energy companies, 98 properties and 66 bank accounts, belonged to Vito Nicastri, a 57-year-old businessman nicknamed the "Lord of the Wind" for his prominent role in the business.

"This is a sector in which money can easily be laundered," Arturo de Felice, head of Italy's anti-Mafia agency, told SkyTG24 news channel.

"Operating in a grey area helped him build up his business over the years," De Felice said.

Frozen assets

The anti-mafia agency said in a statement that it was the biggest seizure of Mafia-linked assets.

The assets had been frozen in 2010 and Nicastri is on probation under orders not to leave his town of Alcamo in western Sicily during the investigation.

Nicastri had "numerous and high-level contacts with Mafia figures", the anti-Mafia agency said, adding that this had been confirmed by messages found during the arrest of two local mafia bosses.

The agency also said that the businessman was linked to Matteo Messina Denaro, a fugitive who is considered the godfather of the Sicilian Mafia.

The seizure "impacts in a significant way on the economic power of Matteo Messina Denaro, who is considered the lord of that land," it added.

Italy's renewable energy sector has been heavily infiltrated by the mafia because of once-generous state subsidies and lax controls, as well as the availability of land in areas of southern Italy with a strong mafia presence.

Source: AFP