Italy’s biggest mafia trial in more than 30 years is set to begin on Wednesday, as prosecutors hope to strike a blow at the crime syndicate ‘Ndrangheta, whose tentacles are reaching the world.
More than 350 suspected mafia members and politicians, lawyers, businessmen and others accused of allowing them to face a judge in a huge specially appointed courtroom in the town of Lamezia Terme, in the south of Calabria, in the heart of the territory of ‘Ndrangheta.
Prosecutors seek to prove a network of crimes dating back to the 1990s, both bloody and white-collar, including murder, drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering and abuse of power.
The trial “is a cornerstone in building a wall against mafias in Italy,” anti-mob prosecutor Nicola Gratteri told TBEN.
In Italy, the so-called “maxi-trials”, which include dozens of defendants and countless charges, are considered the best judicial resource against the various organized criminal groups in the country, including the ‘Ndrangheta. now considered the most powerful, controlling most of the cocaine entering Europe.
The most famous “maxi-trial” of 1986-7 dealt Cosa Nostra in Sicily a heavy blow, resulting in 338 guilty verdicts, but prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were later murdered by mobs.
The ongoing trial, which is expected to last at least a year and likely longer, includes 355 defendants, more than 900 prosecution witnesses and an unprecedented number of collaborators, given the close family ties within the ‘Ndrangheta that discourage the turners. .
‘Like a multinational’
The ‘Ndrangheta has spread far beyond its traditional areas of drug trafficking and credit theft, now using shell companies and leaders to reinvest illegal gains into the legitimate economy.
In many parts of Calabria, it has infiltrated virtually every area of public life, from town hall and hospitals to cemeteries and even courts, according to experts.
Authorities estimate that there are some 150 Ndrangheta families in Calabria and at least 6,000 members and affiliates in the region. This swells to thousands more including those around the world, although estimates are unreliable.
The organized crime group generates more than 50 billion euros ($ 61 billion) a year, according to Gratteri, who called it the richest organization of its kind in the world.
The prosecutor explained the ‘Ndrangheta as a network of families, each of which exercises power over their subordinates.
“I have to start with the idea that there is an organization, like in a company, like in a big multinational, with a boss and then down, like a pyramid, to all the other members,” Gratteri said. to TBEN, explaining the need for the “maxi-trial”.
Rub shoulders with condition
The current essay focuses on one family, the Mancuso Group, and its network of associates who control the region of Vibo Valentia in Calabria.
The town of Lamezia Terme, where the trial will take place, was cited in a 2008 parliamentary report on organized crime as a public safety emergency zone where “the largest increase in serious bloodshed in the region has been registered ”.
The defendants include a large number of non-clan members, including a former parliamentarian, a senior police official, mayors and other officials and businessmen.
“What is impressive is … the power that the Mancuso gang displayed in rubbing shoulders with state apparatuses, which were literally at their disposal,” Gratteri said following a wave of arrests in December 2019 throughout Italy and Europe which led to the trial.
Oxford University criminologist Federico Varese said the trial reflected the far-reaching control of the ‘Ndrangheta, who are integrated into the community and involved in all legal and illicit activities.
“The real strength of these mafia families is that they control the territory and that they do everything in the territory,” said Varèse. “If you want to open a shop, if you want to build anything, you have to go through them.”
“They are the authority.”