The God of Gold wears a bandana, is never seen without his sunglasses and sports lavish tattoos on his steroid pumped muscles. He is the God of Gold, he has a penchant for expletives and in the face of authorities he brandishes the millions of Euros that have elevated him from mere human to deity of the Macro-region. No longer flesh, blood and muscles, but solid gold, both by name and by nature: once Mirko, he is now Mirkoro (oro is Italian for gold).
Mirkoro was never Italy’s number one chain of gold buyers, as his ads claimed, but for five years there was a sort of collective hypnosis that guaranteed the glorification of the forty-year-old Mirko Rosa, in cahoots with his father and a publicist who handled the brand as of 2009.
His little kingdom, around twenty shops scattered across the Macro-region, took off during the recession which saw thousands of people eager to flog gold items of all kinds, from necklaces to watches, rings and teeth, and his shops with their gold sign flourished in the spaces abandoned by small businesses.
In 2013 there were an estimated thirty thousand gold buyers in Italy, with a greater concentration in the Central area of the Macro-region, which was calculated to have around a third of them, raking in around 5 billion euro a year. The number of branches grew constantly from around 2003/2004, which coincided with a period of rising gold prices, with a relative increase in earnings for those deciding to sell off their valuables. The long recession finished the job, fuelling a proliferation of tawdry-looking yellow shopfronts that coincided with the arrival of the Chinese massage parlours, with their pink-curtained windows, and the slot machine arcades, usually a smarter looking green.
The sector had its giants, like Oro Cash, with 400 branches in Italy and another 50 in Spain, which given their high profitability, even attracted investment funds. By comparison Mirkoro is a small concern, but it managed to create an image that made it stand out from the rest, until the main man was arrested for assault and placed under house arrest in a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts at the end of 2014. The sale of gold has always been accompanied by the idea of an economic downturn, but Mirko Rosa put an end to this unfortunate association by painting himself as a self-made millionaire, living it up in gold limos, Lamborghinis and Hummers, partying in clubs surrounded by bodyguards, a rebel fighting the reviled bailiffs. And above all, he gave the business a face, or rather his usual mask of bandana, shades, muscles, tattoos and if necessary, cocaine.
Mirkoro was a pioneer. Starting out with a small shop in Castellanza in the province of Varese in the centre of the Macro-region, he opened shops across the region and overshadowed the competition from the chains Oro Euro, Pomo d’Oro and Banco dei Metalli, used to letting their brands do the talking. From the 20 or so branded stores he set up over the years, in 2014 he had 17 branches and a turnover of 9 million 400,000 euros, a figure that confirms the estimate of each Gold Buyer being worth half a million euros at the pinnacle of its success. This data comes from a ruling of the Competition Watchdog, which fined Mirko Rosa’s father and his publicist partner for misleading advertising. The whole chain is associated with the number 49, as in €49 per gram of gold: the highest price paid in Italy, higher than the price for pure gold and decidedly out of proportion with the value of the items bought by the stores. Of course it’s all smoke and mirrors: all Gold Buyers are dogged by accusations of price rigging.
“Forty-nine a gram isn’t just a slogan, forty-nine a gram is what your life’s worth, man”. These immortal lines are in the Mirkoro rap song, which is accompanied by a low rent, in-your-face video featuring girls frolicking in swimming pools, bottles of champagne and lines of white powder.
“The customer is blatantly shown up to be a poor loser begging for cash.”
The customer is blatantly shown up to be a poor loser begging for cash while Mirko and his ilk are raking in the money and living it up on the pickings of this get-rich-quick story. Images of this gilded world gradually took over billboards along the motorway, in seedier parts of towns and historic centres, and in the shopping areas of new developments by the ring road. Mirkoro could afford to offer fifty or a hundred thousand euros as a reward to track down a murderer, and had no qualms calling for the death penalty for murder. His advertising vans circulated with maxi-posters showing the Pope in person kneeling before him, and his ‘Heart of Gold’ Foundation bragged about its (dubious) charity projects. All the while obsessively repeating the brand’s mantra: 49, 49, 49. Then came the allegations of tax fraud with false invoices, the domestic abuse meted out to his girlfriend, who was locked into a cupboard and forced to drink out of the cat’s bowl (the cat was decapitated), his arrest, prison, house arrest and plea bargaining resulting in a sentence of two years and two months.
The downfall of Mirkoro coincided with a downturn in the trade caused by market saturation and falling gold prices. And while this was going on a law was being passed to regulate this kind of business more strictly, obliging Chamber of Commerce registration, placing Gold Buyers on a par with professional dealers of precious stones, and therefore subject to the same anti-money laundering rules, and introducing a second-hand price index to protect clients from excessive variations in price from branch to branch. The new law also requires buyers to compile more detailed client registers. Money laundering, loansharking, handling stolen goods and tax evasion: these are some of the most frequent accusations made against those who got rich quick buying gold, silver and precious stones.
Stricter legislation was also demanded by ANTICO, the Italian National Association of Gold Buyers, also with the aim of safeguarding bona fide firms. According to the association’s chairman, Nunzio Ragno, gold buyers “play a key social role” by providing cash to those who need it. And they have undoubtedly changed the urban and suburban landscape, with their flashy, tawdry yellow signage. Those who stop to look in the shop windows are constantly reminded that their lives are worth 49 euros a gram. At the most, but usually much less.