Italy braces for mafia ‘maxi-trial’ with 355 defendants in dock
Prosecution centres on feared 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate operating in Calabria region
Italy's largest mafia trial in more than three decades is under way with hundreds of alleged members of the 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate set to appear before a judge.
More than 350 alleged members of the mafia, as well as politicians, lawyers and businessmen, will be tried in a converted call centre in the southern Calabrian town of Lamezia Terme, considered the heart of 'Ndrangheta territory.
The trial centres on associates of the Mancuso crime family, who are accused of murder, drug trafficking, extortion, facilitating and other white-collar crimes, such as money laundering and bribery.
'Ndrangheta has long surpassed Sicily’s notorious Cosa Nostra criminal gang and now controls the bulk of the cocaine flowing into Europe. The organised crime group is thought to generate more than €50 billion ($61bn) a year.
The trial "is a cornerstone in the building of a wall against the mafias in Italy", anti-mob prosecutor Nicola Gratteri said.
In Italy, so-called ‘maxi-trials,’ which involve scores of defendants and countless charges, are seen as the best judicial resource against the country's various organised crime groups.
The current trial, expected to last more than a year, features 355 defendants and more than 900 prosecution witnesses.
The 'Ndrangheta has expanded well beyond its traditional domains of drug trafficking and loan sharking, now using shell companies and frontmen to reinvest illegal gains in the legitimate economy.
In many parts of Calabria, it has infiltrated practically all areas of public life, from city halls and hospitals to cemeteries and even the courts, experts say.
Authorities believe there are about 150 'Ndrangheta families in Calabria and at least 6,000 members and affiliates in the region.
Defendants include a high number of non-family members, such as a former parliamentarian, a high-ranking police official, mayors and other public servants and businessmen.
"The impressive thing is ... the power the Mancuso gang has shown in rubbing shoulders with state apparatuses, which were literally at their disposal," Mr Gratteri said, following a wave of arrests in December 2019 throughout Italy and Europe that led to the trial.
Mr Gratteri, 62, has spent three decades under close police protection and has been labelled a “dead man walking” by other mafia members.
"I have known the mafia since I was a child because I was hitchhiking to school and I often saw dead bodies on the road," he said.
"I thought, 'when I grow up, I want to do something so that this won't happen again'."
The prosecutor grew up in Calabria from where the 'Ndrangheta has extended its reach across the world.
"I know the 'Ndrangheta well from inside, because when I was a child I was at school with the children of mafia bosses," Mr Gratteri said. "The kids I played with then became mobsters and then became drug traffickers. So, that's why I'm familiar with the criminal philosophy, the way of thinking of the 'Ndrangheta members, and this helps in my work".
Mr Gratteri said he felt "very confident" that the case would stand up in court.
He is often compared with Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, star prosecutors who worked on Italy's first mass trial involving the mafia in the 1980s.
That trial, leading to hundreds of convictions, dealt a major blow to Sicily's Cosa Nostra, but cost Mr Falcone and Mr Borsellino their lives as mobsters killed them in retribution.
Updated: January 13, 2021 06:18 PM