Italian justice gave the verdict on Monday in the mega-trial filed against more than 300 alleged members of the ‘Ndrangheta, the most powerful mafia in the peninsula, which enjoys a quasi-monopoly on cocaine trafficking in Europe, reports the Belga agency and The Guardian , quoted by News.ro.
Two mafia “godfathers” were sentenced on Monday to 30 years in prison, and a former deputy to 11 years in prison, in a large trial of ‘Ndrangheta members, which took place in the city of Lamezia Terme in southern Italy. Giancarlo Pittelli, who was a parliamentarian from the Forza Italia party founded by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi – who died in June – was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Former police officers were also convicted, as was a former member of a regional council.
In total, the tribunal convicted more than 200 people for various crimes, including criminal association, extortion and bribery, in what was described as Italy’s biggest mafia trial in three decades.
More than 300 alleged members of mafia organizations and their assistants have been questioned since the beginning of 2021 in connection with this vast file involving the ‘Ndrangheta mafia.
The court, presided over by judge Brigida Cavasino, accepted in many cases the sentences recommended by the prosecutor’s office, which had requested punishments totaling over 4,700 years in prison.
The process lasted for hours.
The charges included murder, membership in a criminal organization, drug trafficking, money laundering and corruption of public officials.
$55 billion business
The ‘Ndrangheta, based in Calabria, where the trial took place, has gone from being the third largest mafia group after the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and the Neapolitan Camorra to the largest Italian criminal organization with links around the world. Illegal cocaine trafficking in Europe is attributed to this organization. The global annual turnover of this traffic is estimated at 55 billion dollars. A study by the Demoskopita Research Institute in 2013 estimated that it is financially stronger than Deutsche Bank and McDonald’s combined.
During the trial, more than 50 prosecution witnesses who left the ‘Ndrangheta and violated its “omerta” code testified. Many of them are currently living in witness protection programs. The ‘Ndrangheta is said to be made up of 150 families.
The ‘Ndrangheta trial focused mainly on the Mancuso family. Two local leaders, Saverio Razionale and Domenico Bonavota, were sentenced to 30 years in prison each. Sentencing has not yet been handed down against the clan’s boss, Luigi Mancuso, nicknamed “Uncle”, who is being tried separately.
A specially built court
A high-security court was specially built in a former telephone exchange in the city of Lamezia Terme to host this trial, with the courtroom measuring 100 by 35 meters and secure cells being installed for the accused.
The verdicts mark the end of a three-year “mega-trial” held in the high-security courtroom in the southern Calabria region, purpose-built to house up to 350 defendants, 400 lawyers and hear 900 witnesses testify testimony against an extensive network.
Although more than 100 people were acquitted by the court in Lamezia Terme, the sentence represents one of the most significant blows to date against the powerful organized crime syndicate, which enjoys a quasi-monopoly on the European cocaine trade.
A spectacular operation
Almost all of the defendants were arrested in December 2019, following a long-running investigation that began in 2016 and spanned at least 11 Italian regions. About 2,500 agents took part in the raids which focused on the suspects in Vibo Valentia, Calabria, the heart of an area mainly controlled by the Mancuso clan of the ‘Ndrangheta.
An elite carabinieri unit known as the Cacciatori, which literally means “hunters”, arrested several suspects who were hiding in bunkers located behind escalators, hidden hatches and manholes.
A police chief, local councilors and businessmen accused of helping the mafia were also arrested in Germany, Switzerland and Bulgaria.
Nicola Gratteri, the anti-mafia prosecutor who led the investigation, told The Guardian at the time of the raids that it was the biggest operation against crime syndicates since the Palermo mega-trials of 1986-1992, when Sicilian prosecutors charged 475 people in the accused’s box.
For this trial, Gratteri’s team collected 24,000 phone records and intercepted conversations to support their allegations.
Investigators provided ample evidence of the ruthless and oppressive tactics used by the ‘Ndrangheta to control local communities, including violent attacks, extortion, corruption of public contracts, weapons stockpiling, election manipulation and bribery.
The mobsters were members or affiliates of the main ‘Ndrangheta group operating in Vibo Valentia, an economically disadvantaged rural area where the mafia has exerted its influence for many years, suffocating the local economy, infiltrating public institutions and terrorizing the population.
In particular, the trial marked a significant difference from previous cases, as it included among the accused persons who are not members of the mafia. Among these people were a high-ranking police official, mayors, other civil servants and businessmen. Most of those convicted on Monday announced that they will appeal against their verdicts.
What nicknames did the mobsters have
The ‘Ndrangheta members of Vibo Valentia, often known by picturesque nicknames such as “The Wolf”, “The Fat”, “Sweet” or “Leap of Lamb”, struck fear into small business owners and local farmers and enjoyed protection from the part of officials and politicians.
Informants revealed shocking details, such as weapons being hidden in cemetery chapels and drugs being transported in ambulances. They also revealed cases of diversion of municipal water reserves for marijuana cultivation.
Those who dared to oppose the ‘Ndrangheta faced gruesome threats, including having dead puppies and dolphins or goat heads thrown at their doorsteps, sledgehammer attacks on shop windows or burning of their vehicles. Some suffered physical attacks, disappeared without a trace or were killed.
According to the investigators, the secret of the success of the Calabrian mafia lies in the extent to which it is anchored in the region. The bosses rarely leave their isolated villages, despite managing global operations worth billions of euros. To protect themselves, they build escape tunnels under their houses, sophisticated bunkers in the mountains that can only be reached on foot, and hideouts in the forest for when they have to flee.
The “star” of the process
The supreme “godfather”, Luigi Mancuso, the undisputed head of the territory, was removed from the list of accused last year to be tried separately.
During the trial, codenamed Rinascita (Rebirth), all eyes were on Emanuele Mancuso, Luigi’s nephew and Luni Mancuso’s son, who revealed the clan’s secrets after accepting police protection.
During the investigation, police discovered a pizzino, a small piece of paper used by the Mafia for high-level communications, which contained a quote from three 17th-century knights who, according to legend, founded Cosa Nostra in Sicily, the Camorra in Campania and the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria.
Despite the fact that they live as hermits hidden in the Calabrian mountains, the ‘Ndrangheta bosses are able to launder millions of euros from drug trafficking through shell companies. Unlike the Sicilian mafia, the clans of the ‘Ndrangheta are characterized by deep blood relations, a characteristic that, until recently, made this organization practically impenetrable.
Editor: Liviu Cojan