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Italy targets ‘Ndrangheta group in biggest mafia trial in decades

Hundreds of suspected members of the 'Ndrangheta, Italy's most powerful mafia group, are on trial at the specially outfitted building in Lamezia Terme, Calabria.
Hundreds of suspected members of the 'Ndrangheta, Italy's most powerful mafia group, are on trial at the specially outfitted building in Lamezia Terme, Calabria. Gianluca CHININEA AFP

The trial that has opened against alleged members of the ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate in a courtroom-bunker created from a former call centre, on the outskirts of the southern Italian city of Lamezia Terme, is comparable in scale with the Palermo “maxi-trial” in 1986-87 against Sicily’s Cosa Nostra mafia.

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Holding this trial in Calabria, the home of the ‘Ndrangheta, is a show of strength by the state.

The charges include murder, extortion, money laundering and drug trafficking. There are 355 defendants. They will be locked in cages during the trial. An unprecedented 58 state witnesses have come forward, prepared to break the sacrosanct criminal code of silence.

The trial will also involve hundreds of prosecution witness and lawyers, as well as journalists from all over the world. It is expected to last at least two years.

The man behind this judicial giant is Italy’s most famous anti-mafia prosecutor, 62-year-old Nicola Gratteri, who is from Calabria and grew up playing football with the children of mafia bosses, some of whom he arrested years later. He has been under police protection for the past three decades.

Gratteri was responsible for ordering the arrests of those now on trial in raids that were carried out at the end of 2019 in Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Bulgaria. Among those standing trial are accountants, lawyers, public servants, former politicians, all of whom allegedly helped out bosses of the ‘Ndrangheta.

Mancuso mafia family business

The main focus of this trial is the activity of the Mancuso mafia family and its affiliates, a clan which calls all the shots in the Calabrian province of Vibo Valentia.

Boss Luigi Mancuso, known as “the Uncle”, spent nearly 20 years in prison, from where he continued to run his shady businesses, before going underground. Interestingly, a family member, Emanuele Mancuso, has turned state evidence, accepting police protection, and has been instrumental in providing information.

The ‘Ndrangheta’s name comes from a Greek word meaning a society of honour, courage and loyalty. The organisation is notoriously ruthless, with tentacles spreading in countries all over the world.

Today it is considered the most powerful and the wealthiest of all crime syndicates and has a virtual monopoly on the cocaine market in Europe, being the main importer and wholesaler of the drug, produced in Latin America.

The ‘Ndrangheta is estimated to be earning an annual 50 million euros from the drug trade.

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