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The huge mafia trial against Ndrangheta with 350 suspects begins in Italy in a specially converted courtroom


Italy's largest mafia trial in more than 30 years opened today as prosecutors attempt to strike a blow against the crime syndicate & # 39; Ndrangheta, whose tentacles range across the world.

More than 350 suspected members of the Mafia, as well as politicians, lawyers, businessmen, officials and police officers who are accused of enabling a judge, stand in a specially converted courtroom in the southern Calabrian town of Lamezia Terme in the heart of the & # 39; Ndrangheta area .

They are charged with a web of bloody and employee crimes dating from the 1990s, including murder, drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering and abuse of office.

Anti-mob prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, 62, defied threats from Mafia members that he was a "dead man" when he entered the courtroom today.

Italy's largest mafia trial in more than 30 years opened on Wednesday when more than 350 suspects face a judge in a special courtroom (pictured) in the southern Calabrian town of Lamezia Terme, in the heart of the & # 39; Ndrangheta area

Anti-mob prosecutor Nicola Gratteri (center) said it had been an "important day" and told reporters in court that the trial "would give the idea of ​​what the Calabrian mafia is today - no longer a mafia of Shepherds devoted to kidnapping but a large criminal society & # 39;

Anti-mob prosecutor Nicola Gratteri (center) said it was an "important day" and told reporters in court that the trial "would give the idea of ​​what the Calabrian mafia is today – no longer a mafia of Shepherds devoted to kidnapping but a large criminal society & # 39;

Gratteri, who has been under police escort for the past 30 years, said it was an "important day" and told reporters in court that the trial "would give the idea of ​​what the Calabrian mafia is today – not a mafia of shepherds more to kidnap but a big criminal company '.

He added, “Decades ago when people talked about Cosa Nostra or used the word 'ndrangheta', something they would only say and whisper in a hidden room by the fireplace, he added.

"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 the Ndrangheta for years, Graterri, who has spent more than 30 years fighting the mob," added.

He was later sitting in the front row of the courtroom when Judge Tiziana Macri began reading out the names of the defendants, none of whom were present in person but who attended via videoconference. Their faces were shown on dozens of televisions mounted above gray desks.

Several television screens were set up in the specially converted courtroom prior to the trial

Before the trial, several television screens were set up in the specially converted courtroom

Judge Tiziana Macri began reading out the names of the defendants, none of whom were present in person, but who attended via video conference. Their faces could be seen on dozens of televisions mounted above gray desks

Judge Tiziana Macri began reading out the names of the defendants, none of whom were present in person but who attended via video conference. Their faces could be seen on dozens of televisions mounted above gray desks

The trial, which is expected to take at least a year and likely longer, includes 355 defendants, more than 900 prosecutor's witnesses

The trial, which is expected to take at least a year and likely longer, includes 355 defendants, more than 900 prosecutor's witnesses

The trial, which is expected to take at least a year and likely longer, involves 355 defendants, more than 900 prosecutor's witnesses, and an unprecedented number of collaborators, 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 to be the best judicial resource against the country's various organized crime groups, of which the "Ndrangheta" are now considered to be the most powerful that controls much of the country Cocaine flows to Europe.

The most famous "Maxi Trial" of 1986-7 dealt a heavy blow to Sicily's Cosa Nostra, resulting in 338 convictions, but prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were later murdered by the crowd.

The & # 39; Ndrangheta has expanded well beyond its traditional drug trafficking and loan shark areas. The crime syndicate is now using shell companies and frontmen to reinvest illicit profits into the legitimate economy.

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

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

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. Pictured: A police officer enters the high-security courtroom before the trial today

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. Pictured: A police officer enters the high-security courtroom before the trial today

Nicola Morra, President of the Italian Anti-Mafia Parliamentary Commission, arrives today for the Mafia trial at the courthouse

Nicola Morra, President of the Italian Anti-Mafia Parliamentary Commission, arrives today for the Mafia trial at the courthouse

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 worldwide, although estimates are unreliable.

The organized crime group generates more than 50 billion euros a year, according to Gratteri, who calls it the richest such organization in the world.

In an interview with AFP before the trial began, the prosecutor described the "Ndrangheta as a network of families, each with power over subordinates".

"I have to start with the idea that there is an organization, like in a company, like in a large multinational company, with a boss and then like a pyramid to all the other members," he said, explaining the need for the "maxi-experiment".

Gratteri had tried for decades to bring the Mafia to justice – and over the years he faced numerous threats.

Italian police intercepted a phone call between two members of the mafia who described Gratteri as a "dead man walking," the Wall Street Journal reported.

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 worldwide, although estimates are unreliable. Pictured: The specially converted courtroom today

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 worldwide, although estimates are unreliable. Pictured: The specially converted courtroom today

The prosecutor was the subject of a number of assassinations – in 2005 police found explosives and assault rifles that were intended to kill him.

The current study focuses on one family, the Mancuso Group, and their network of employees who control the Vibo Valentia area in Calabria.

Although 355 defendants will stand trial, the number rose to over 400 when those who opted for speedy trial are taken into account.

Among the accused is former parliamentarian Giancarlo Pittelli, a renowned defender, Freemason and ex-senator of the Forza Italia party of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

He denies allegations that he acted as an intermediary between the Ndrangheta and the world of politics, banking and other powerful institutions, including the courts.

Although 355 defendants will stand trial, the number rose to over 400 when those who opted for speedy trial are taken into account

Although 355 defendants will stand trial, the number rose to over 400 when those who opted for speedy trial are taken into account

Most of the defendants were arrested in a series of daybreak raids across Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Bulgaria in December 2019.

Allegations include Mafia Association, murder and attempted murder, drug trafficking, extortion, loan shark, official secrets disclosure, abuse of office, possession of stolen goods and money laundering.

The numerous murders, some of which date back to 1996, include the disappearance in 2002 of Filippo Gangitano, who was murdered by his cousin for being homosexual.

"These things cannot exist in the Ndrangheta," said the cousin, now a state witness, and was informed by the chiefs.

Gangitano's body was buried in a place where a road was later built, the witness said, according to news reports.

The city of Lamezia Terme, where the trial is taking place, was named in a 2008 parliamentary report on organized crime as a public safety emergency zone, which "saw the region's largest increase in serious bloodshed".

The defendants include large numbers of non-clan members, including a former MP, senior police officer, mayors and other officials and business people.

"The impressive thing is … the power that the Mancuso gang showed when they rubbed their shoulders with state machines that were literally at their disposal," said Gratteri after a wave of arrests across Italy and December 2019 Europe that led to the trial.

Oxford University criminologist Federico Varese said the process reflected the vast reach of the & # 39; 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. & # 39;

How the cocaine crime network in Ndrangheta extends around the world

In December 2019, an operation was directed against the & # 39; Ndrangheta families in the southern Italian town of Locri in the Calabria region – the rural, mountainous and underdeveloped & # 39; Toe & # 39; of the Italian boot and the heartland of the global crime group.

As a result of the dive, the Italian police arrested 334 people, including a police colonel and a former member of the Silvio Berlusconi party.

Despite intense police attention and frequent arrests, the "Ndrangheta", the meaning of which is derived from the Greek word for "heroism", has expanded its reach.

Notoriously ruthless, the Ndrangheta has surpassed the Cosa Nostra in Sicily and the Naples-based Camorra to serve on every continent in Italy.

That trade is worth billions, and previous police operations have shown the & # 39; Ndrangheta to have well-established ties to Colombian producer cartels, Mexican crime gangs, and Mafia families in New York and other parts of North America.

In 2016, Ernesto Fazzalari (pictured), an alleged Ndrangheta boss, was arrested for murder after two decades on the run from a life sentence

Santo Vottari was arrested in Calabria after being on the run for a decade

In 2016, Ernesto Fazzalari (left), an alleged Ndrangheta boss, was arrested for murder after two decades on the run from a life sentence. A year later, another suspected crime clan chief, Santo Vottari (right), was arrested in Calabria after being on the run for a decade

The organization's tight clan-based structure has made intrusion difficult, but the police have made some on the streets in recent years.

In 2015, 163 people were arrested in a serious crackdown on the notorious mafia gang, which at the time had become the most powerful criminal organization in the country.

In another sting earlier this year, police snatched £ 1.4 billion worth of assets from the Ndrangheta, which included more than 1,500 betting shops, 82 online gambling sites and nearly 60 companies.

In 2016 one of Italy's most wanted Mafia bosses, Ernesto Fazzalari, was arrested for murder after two decades on the run from a life sentence.

The & # 39; Ndrangheta member was captured in an apartment in a remote part of the southern region of Calabria.

On the run since 1996, he was convicted in absentia in 1999 of Mafia association, kidnapping, illegal possession of weapons and a double homicide in connection with a bloody feud from 1989-91 in which 32 people died in his hometown of Taurianova.

His arrest was hailed by the government as a major victory for the state in the fight against the powerful Mafia group.

In 2018, another suspected crime clan chief, Santo Vottari, was arrested in Calabria after being on the run for a decade.

He was arrested while hiding behind a trap door in a bunker that fell to the ground in a 2007 massacre in Germany.

Vottari was convicted in absentia in 2009 of being one of the leaders of an Ndrangheta clan whose feud with local rivals culminated in the murders in Duisburg.

He was sentenced to ten years and eight months in prison two years after he fled.

Vottari was one of 31 people sentenced to prison terms in connection with the Duisburg murders in 2009 after a vengeance got out of hand between two clans in the same village, San Luca.

The feud between the Nirta-Strangio and Pelle-Vottari clans reportedly began in 1991 with an egg-throwing prank.

The reprisals escalated after Maria Strangio, wife of the clan leader Giovanni Nirta, was killed on Christmas Day 2006.

The feud was blamed for a total of at least 16 deaths that became known internationally through the murders in Germany.

Giovanni Strangio was convicted in 2011 as mastermind and one of the authors of the Duisburg murders.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment. Seven other people were sentenced to life imprisonment in connection with the feud at the same trial.

Notoriously reckless, the Ndrangheta, thanks to their control over the European cocaine trade, has outpaced the influence of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and the Naples-based Camorra.

The organization consists of numerous village and family-based clans who live in the rural, mountainous and underdeveloped "toe" of the Italian boot.

The name & # 39; Ndrangheta comes from the Greek for courage or loyalty, and the organization's secret culture and brutal enforcement of codes of silence have made it very difficult to break into.

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