The biggest mafia trial in decades starts in Italy

Italy’s largest mafia trial in more than 30 years will begin on Wednesday, as prosecutors hope to crack down on ‘Ndrangheta’s criminal syndicate, whose tentacles reach all over the world.

More than 350 alleged members of the mafia and politicians, lawyers, businessmen and others accused of allowing them to appear before a judge in a huge, specially rebuilt courtroom in southern Calabria, the city of Lamezia Terme, in the heart of Ndrangheta’s territory.

Prosecutors are trying to prove a network of crimes dating back to the 1990s, both bloody and official, including murder, drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering and abuse of office.

The trial “is a cornerstone in the construction of a wall against the mafia in Italy,” anti-mob prosecutor Nicola Gratteri told AFP.

In Italy, so-called “maxi-trials”, which include many indictments and countless charges, are seen as the best legal resource against the country’s various organized crime groups, of which Ndrangheta is now considered the most powerful, controlling the bulk of cocaine flows into Europe. .

The most notorious “maxi trial” in 1986-7 struck Sicily with Cosa Nostra, resulting in 338 convictions, but prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were later assassinated by the mob.

The current trial, which is expected to last at least a year and probably longer, contains 355 defendants, more than 900 witnesses and an unmatched number of employees, given the close family ties within ‘Ndrangheta that deter turnarounds.

‘As a multinational’

‘Ndrangheta has expanded far beyond its traditional domains of drug trafficking and loan raking, and now uses shell companies and frontrunners to reinvest illegal profits in the legitimate economy.

In many parts of Calabria, it has infiltrated virtually every part of public life, from town halls and hospitals, to cemeteries and even courts, experts say.

Authorities believe there are about 150 ‘Ndrangheta families in Calabria and at least 6,000 members and affiliates in the region. It swells to thousands more when included worldwide, even if estimates are unreliable.

The organized crime group generates more than 50 billion euros ($ 61 billion) a year, according to Gratteri, which called it the world’s richest such organization.

The prosecutor declared ‘Ndrangheta a network of families, each of which has power over 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 told AFP, explaining the need for “maxi -trial”.

Rub the shoulders with the state

The current trial focuses on a family, the Mancuso group, and its network of employees who control the Vibo Valentia area in Calabria.

The city of Lamezia Terme, where the trial will take place, was cited in a parliamentary report on organized crime in 2008 as a public safety emergency in which the region’s “largest increase in serious bloodshed has been recorded”.

The accused include a large number of non-clan members, including a former parliamentarian, a high-ranking police officer, the mayor and other public servants and businessmen.

“The impressive thing is … the power that the Mancuso gang has shown in rubbing shoulders with state apparatus, which was literally at their disposal,” Gratteri said after a wave of arrests in December 2019 across Italy and Europe that led to the trial.

Criminologist Federico Varese of Oxford University said the trial reflected the widespread control of ‘Ndrangheta, who are embedded in society and involved in every legal and illegal activity.

“The real strength of these mafia families is that they have control over the territory and within the territory they do everything,” says Varese. “If you want to open a store, if you want to build something, you have to go through them.”

“They are the authority.”