The Italian justice system issued its verdict this Monday in the trial of more than 300 alleged members of the powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia, which has a near monopoly on cocaine trafficking in Europe.
In total, the prosecution demanded almost 5,000 years in prison against 322 defendants, among whom there are godfathers of the Calabrian mafia, their subordinates, and accomplices, such as officials, elected politicians, and even high-ranking police officers.
Of all Italian mafias, the ‘Ndrangheta is the richest and most powerful, ahead of Cosa Nostra (Sicily) and the Neapolitan Camorra. It is based in Calabria, a very poor region located in the southwestern corner of the Italian peninsula.
Present in some forty countries, it has a debilitating influence in the region of its origin, infiltrating and corrupting the administration and imposing its iron law on the population.
Since January 2021, three judges have questioned witnesses for thousands of hours, including about fifty repentant gangsters who have decided to cooperate with justice, about the activities of the Mancuso family and their associates, an important clan of the ‘Ndrangheta that controls the province of Vibo Valentia.
The “godfather” of Vibo Valentia, Luigi Mancuso, 69, was arrested in 2019 and tried in another trial.
This major trial, organized in a bunker and among important security measures in the city of Lamezia Terme, is the most important carried out against the mafia in more than 30 years.
Among the many cases of indictment are mafia associations, drug trafficking, extortion, usury, dirty money laundering, etc.
In court, the defendants described the violent actions of the ‘Ndrangheta, its influence on the local population, extortion, manipulation of tender public bids and elections, and the purchase of weapons.
They reveal secrets about weapons caches in cemeteries or ambulances used to transport drugs, and they explain how municipal water is diverted to irrigate marijuana plantations.
Rocco Mangiardi, a 67-year-old businessman who was a victim of the mafia, thanked the judges and prosecutors for their work at the start of the hearing on Monday, but regretted the “deafening silence” of the Italian media on this matter and the loss of ordinary citizens like him among the public.
Those who oppose the mafia are threatened, if not eliminated. They find dead puppies, goats, or even dolphin heads on their doorstep. Not to mention burning cars or looting shop windows. There are those who are beaten or shot, and others who are lost forever.
The fact that the accused included company managers, mayors, civil servants, and even a high-ranking police officer shows the extent to which the ‘Ndrangheta was able to penetrate the legal economy.
One of the most prominent defendants is a 70-year-old lawyer, Giancarlo Pittelli, a former deputy and senator from Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, who is facing a 17-year prison sentence for allegedly acting as a mediator between the clan and the family. political class.
Long underestimated, the ‘Ndrangheta developed wisely for decades, while the authorities concentrated their efforts on Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian mafia protagonist of films like “The Godfather.”
In fact, the first macro-trial of this kind was organized against its members in Palermo in 1986 and led to the conviction of 338 gangsters.
Experts estimate that the ‘Ndrangheta, made up of about 150 Calabrian families, generates a turnover of about 50 billion euros (about $54.5 billion) worldwide.
With the help of Interpol, Italy has been able in recent years to corral criminal networks, training police around the world to identify ‘Ndrangheta’s activities in its territory and to deal with them.
Despite its size, experts do not expect the trial to change the activities of the ‘Ndrangheta.
“I don’t think the police operation is enough to destroy the ‘Ndrangheta,” estimated Antonio Nicaso, emphasizing other priorities: work, education, and a change of mindset. “That’s what it takes to attack a criminal organization.”