Italy: ‘Cornerstone’ mafia trial begins with tons of in dock | Crime Information
Italy’s largest mafia trial in more than 30 years begins on Wednesday when the public prosecutor’s office tries to strike a blow at the crime syndicate ‘Ndrangheta, whose tentacles reach out across the world.
More than 350 suspected members of the mafia, as well as politicians, lawyers, businessmen and others accused of empowering them, will be tried before a judge in a huge specially converted courtroom in the southern Calabrian town of Lamezia Terme, in the heart of the ‘Ndrangheta area.
Oxford University criminologist Federico Varese said the process reflected the extensive scrutiny of the ‘Ndrangheta who are embedded in the community and involved in every legal and illegal activity.
“The real strength of these Mafia families is that they are in control of the territory and do everything within the territory,” Varese said. “If you want to start a business, if you want to build something, you have to go through it.”
“You are the authority.”
Prosecutors are attempting to prove a web of crimes that date back to the 1990s, including murder, drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering and abuse of office.
The process “is a cornerstone in building a wall against the Mafias in Italy,” said anti-mob prosecutor Nicola Gratteri to the AFP news agency.
In Italy, so-called “maxi trials,” which include numerous defendants and countless charges, are considered to be the best judicial resource against the country’s various organized crime groups, of which the Ndrangheta is now considered the most powerful that controls most of the cocaine flows in Europe.
The most famous Maxi Trial of 1986-87 dealt a severe blow to Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, which resulted in 338 convictions. However, prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were later murdered by the crowd.
The current trial, which is expected to take at least a year and likely longer, includes 355 defendants, more than 900 prosecutor’s witnesses and an unprecedented number of staff as close family ties within the Ndrangheta discourage the coats.
In Italy, so-called “maxi trials”, which include numerous defendants and countless charges, are considered the best legal resource against the country’s various organized crime groups [Gianluca Chininea/ AFP]Antonella Massaro, professor of criminal law at the University of Rome 3, told Al Jazeera the process was “very important” and could help open the secret Ndrangheta syndicate.
“The Ndrangheta compared to Cosa Nostra [the Sicilian Mafia], is based on a close family network, ”said Massaro.
“So far it has been difficult to take them to court, as the logic of collaboration between insiders has done [not been] effective – within the family you tend to protect.
“You may uncover a Pandora’s box that is so noticeable that it could affect the consciousness of people in these countries.”
However, she did not expect anything to change at this “historic moment” in southern Italy amid the coronavirus pandemic, as those facing economic difficulties would likely turn to organized crime for assistance.
“Like a multinational company”
The ‘Ndrangheta has expanded beyond its traditional areas of drug trafficking and loan shark, and now uses shell companies and frontmen to reinvest illicit profits into the legitimate economy.
In many parts of Calabria, it has infiltrated virtually every aspect of public life, from town hall to hospitals to cemeteries and even courts, experts say.
Authorities believe there are around 150 Ndrangheta families in Calabria and at least 6,000 members and affiliates in the area. That swells to thousands when the global number is included, although estimates are unreliable.
“As the Mafia developed … across Europe, especially in Germany, its structure changed and became more recognizable,” said Massaro.
The organized crime group generates more than 50 billion euros per year, according to Gratteri, who calls it the richest such organization in the world.
The prosecutor declared the ‘Ndrangheta to be a network of families, each with power over subordinates.
“I have to start with the idea that there is an organization, like a company, like a large multinational, with a boss and then like a pyramid to all the other members,” said Gratteri.
Rub shoulders with the state
The current study focuses on one family, the Mancuso Group, and their network of employees who control the Vibo Valentia area in Calabria.
The city of Lamezia Terme, where the trial will take place, was named in a 2008 parliamentary organized crime report as a public safety emergency zone, which has seen “the largest increase in serious bloodshed in the region”.
The defendants include large numbers of non-clan members including a former MP, senior police officer, mayors and other officials and business people.
The Mancuso gang has rubbed their shoulders with state machines that were “literally” available to them, Gratteri said after a wave of arrests across Italy and Europe in December 2019 that led to the trial.
Al Jazeeras Stefannie Dekker, who reported from Rome, said: “If there are beliefs when it comes to this particular family and their associations, there are [still] far more powerful families within the ‘Ndrangheta who can continue to operate.
“W.We’re not even going to see any harm to the organization’s operations, but certainly the process shows … that people are starting to talk or have a little more faith in the legal system. “
Additional coverage from Al Jazeera’s Virginia Pietromarchi.