The process will take place in a purpose-built bunker with video screens near the Calabrian town of Lamezia Terme in southern Italy. Photo: Valeria Ferraro
In southern Italy, a court case has been opened against the criminal syndicate Ndrangheta, arguably the richest criminal organization in the world, which tacitly amassed power in Italy when the Sicilian mafia its influence lost.
The hearing against more than 300 defendants was opened in a specially constructed bunker on the extensive grounds of an industrial park in Calabria, the « toe » of the Italian peninsula.
The prosecutor’s office is hoping the trial will open will be decisive blow to the Calabria-based mob organization Ndrangheta, which has used tens of billions in cocaine revenues to expand its criminal reach across Europe and across continents. Anti-Mafia prosecutor Nicola Gratteri told reporters when he arrived yesterday that the trial was a turning point showing where the Ndrangheta are now being called and tried for their crimes.
« Decades ago people were shaking when they talked about Cosa Nostra or when they used the word « Ndrangheta », something they just said and whispered in a hidden room by the fireplace, « he said. « Today we start talking in open sunlight.
» Over the past two years we have seen an increase in complaints from business people, bullied citizens, usury victims and people who have been exposed to ndrangheta for years, « he said . The investigators say that the Ndrangheta has established bases in large parts of Western, Northern and Central Europe, Australia, North and South America and is also active in Africa.
The process arose from the investigation of 12 clans who were involved with be in connection with a convicted Ndrangheta chief. That number is Luigi Mancuso, who served 19 years in Italian prison cells for leading one of the most powerful Ndrangheta crime families in the city of Vibo Valentia.
Prosecutors have announced that they will call more than 900 witnesses, and the process is expected to take at least a year. The allegations under review by the court include drug and arms trafficking, extortion and mafia association, a term used in the Italian Criminal Code to refer to members of organized crime groups.
Others are charged with complicity in the Ndrangheta without actually being a member. About 325 defendants have been ordered to appear on trial at Lamezia Terme, while 90 other defendants in the investigation have decided on an expedited trial that will begin in Calabria later this month. In another finding from the same probe, a trial of five murders begins elsewhere in Calabria in February.
The Lamezia Terme bunker is so large that a variety of video screens are anchored to the ceiling to help participants better understand what happened to be able to see. There is a sea of rows of tables where 600 lawyers can work. Microphones and chairs are safely away from each other to comply with Covid-19 health rules.
While the numbers are impressive, the trial against gangsters this week is not the largest in Italy. In 1986 in Palermo, 475 suspected members of the Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia, were brought to justice in a similarly specially built bunker. This trial, which resulted in more than 300 convictions and 19 life sentences, helped expose many of the brutal methods and grueling strategies used by the island’s top mob bosses, including sensational murders that bled the Palermo area during years of power struggles .
In contrast, this trial of the Ndrangheta is in large part aimed at gaining convictions for alleged tolerance among gangsters and local politicians, officials, businessmen and members of secret lodges, to show how deeply rooted the syndicate is in the territory is.
The ndrangheta, which was based almost entirely on blood ties, was practically immune to turncoats for decades. But their ranks are getting bigger and bigger. A relative of Mr Mancuso was among those who turned evidence of the state in the Lamezia Terme trial. Several dozen informants in the case are from the Ndrangheta, others are from the earlier ranks of the Cosa Nostra and could be asked to testify.
The Ndrangheta is full of cocaine revenues and has hotels, restaurants, pharmacies, car dealerships and others Corporations engulfed all over Italy, particularly Rome and the affluent north.
The buying frenzy in recent years has spread across Europe as the Ndrangheta attempted to launder illegal revenue, but also through legitimate businesses, including the Tourism and hospitality sector to make “clean” money.
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