Verdicts are anticipated on Monday in the trial involving hundreds of individuals accused of being members of Italy’s ‘ndrangheta organized crime syndicate, recognized as one of the most influential, expansive, and affluent drug-trafficking groups globally.
Commencing almost three years ago in the southern Calabria region, the birthplace of the mob organization, the trial unfolded as the ‘ndrangheta steadily accumulated influence both within Italy and internationally, overshadowing the diminishing authority of the Sicilian Mafia.
Anti-mafia prosecutors, spearheading the investigation in southern Italy, assert that the syndicate currently maintains near complete control over cocaine importation in Europe. Furthermore, they contend that the organization has established strongholds in North and South America and is engaged in activities across Africa. In recent years, ‘ndrangheta figures have faced arrests in various European locations, as well as in Brazil and Lebanon.
The trial unfolded in a specially constructed high-security bunker situated in an industrial park in Lamezia Terme. The bunker’s expansive size prompted the installation of video screens on the ceiling to allow participants to observe the proceedings.
Over 320 defendants face charges encompassing drug and arms trafficking, extortion, and mafia association, a term under Italy’s penal code used for individuals associated with organized crime groups. Some are accused of acting in complicity with the ‘ndrangheta without formal membership.
The charges emerged from an inquiry into 12 clans connected to a convicted ‘ndrangheta boss. Luigi Mancuso, a central figure, had previously served a 19-year sentence in an Italian prison for his leadership role in what investigators claim is one of the ‘ndrangheta’s most influential crime families, located in the town of Vibo Valentia.
Traditionally fortified by blood relations, the ‘ndrangheta enjoyed relative immunity from turncoats for many years, but the number of individuals cooperating with the authorities has been growing. In the ongoing trial, this includes a relative of Luigi Mancuso. Numerous informants involved in the case have ties to the ‘ndrangheta, while others were formerly associated with Sicily’s Cosa Nostra.
The trial involving the ‘ndrangheta, despite its considerable scale with over 320 defendants, does not surpass Italy’s largest trial of alleged mobsters, which occurred in 1986. In that trial, 475 suspected members of the Sicilian Mafia faced charges in a similarly fortified bunker in Palermo. The proceedings led to over 300 convictions and 19 life sentences, unveiling the brutal tactics and murderous strategies employed by the island’s top mob leaders. In contrast, the ‘ndrangheta trial focuses on securing convictions and sentences based on alleged collusion among mobsters, local politicians, public officials, businessmen, and members of secret lodges. The goal is to illustrate the deep-rooted influence of the syndicate in Calabria.
“The relevance (of this trial) is enormous,” said Federico Cafiero De Raho, a former chief anti-mafia prosecutor and lawmaker. “Every trial against the ‘ndrangheta gives a very significant message to the territory, which is not only the Calabrian one but the national territory. But it has repercussions also at a European and world level, because the ‘ndrangheta is one of the strongest organizations in the world, able to manage the international traffic of narcotics, as well as many other activities.”
Enriched by the proceeds of cocaine trafficking, the ‘ndrangheta has expanded its influence by acquiring various businesses across Italy, particularly in Rome and the affluent northern regions. Hotels, restaurants, pharmacies, car dealerships, and other enterprises have been infiltrated by the criminal organization, as revealed by ongoing investigations.
The syndicate’s buying spree extended into Europe as it aimed to launder illicit revenues and generate “clean” money by operating legitimate businesses, particularly in the tourism and hospitality sectors.
Arrests temporarily disrupt their activities, but ongoing investigations underscore the necessity for continuous efforts, according to Federico Cafiero De Raho, a former chief anti-mafia prosecutor and lawmaker.