The Italian judiciary has delivered its verdict in this case targeting small hands and godfathers of the Calabrian octopus, as well as their white-collar accomplices, civil servants, local elected officials and even high-ranking police officers. More than 200 people were sentenced on Monday in Italy to up to 30 years in prison, following a "maxi-trial" against the 'Ndrangheta, the most powerful mafia on the peninsula.
Of the 338 defendants who appeared before the court in Lamezia Terme (south), 207 were found guilty and sentenced, while 131 were acquitted. The prosecution had requested a total of nearly 5,000 years in prison for the mafiosi as well as their white-collar accomplices, civil servants, local elected officials and even high-ranking police officers.
The sentences, read out by Judge Brigida Cavasino, range from a few months in prison to 30 years in prison, a sentence received by four people. One of the most prominent defendants, 70-year-old former senator Giancarlo Pittelli, was sentenced to 11 years in prison while prosecutors had asked for a 17-year sentence.
Trial in a bunker under heavy surveillance
Based in Calabria, a very impoverished region located in the tip of Italy's boot, the 'Ndrangheta is the richest and most powerful of Italy's mafias. Present in some forty countries, it exerts a suffocating hold on its land of origin, infiltrating and corrupting the administration while imposing its iron law over the population.
Since January 2021, three judges have heard thousands of hours of witnesses, including around fifty repentant mafiosi who have become collaborators of justice, on the activities of the Mancuso family and its associates, a major 'Ndrangheta clan controlling Vibo Valentia province. The maxi-trial, held in a heavily guarded bunker in the town of Lamezia Terme, is the largest against the mafia in more than 30 years. The charges are numerous: mafia association, drug trafficking, extortion, usury, laundering of dirty money...
During the trial, the defendants detailed the violent functioning of the 'Ndrangheta, its hold on the local population, extortion, rigging of tenders and elections, acquisition of weapons, etc. They revealed secrets about weapons caches in cemeteries or ambulances used to transport drugs, and revealed how municipal water was diverted to water marijuana farms.
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On Monday morning at the opening of the hearing, a businessman who is a victim of the mafia came, as he has done every week since the beginning of the trial, to express his support "for those who are helping us to free ourselves, the judges and prosecutors". Rocco Mangiardi, 67, said he regretted the "deafening silence" of the Italian media on the case, and the absence of ordinary citizens like him on the public benches.
Those who oppose the mafia are threatened or even eliminated. They discover dead puppies or the heads of goats or even dolphins on their doorstep. Not to mention burned cars or ransacked storefronts. Some are also beaten or shot, others disappear forever.
Illustrating the 'Ndrangheta's infiltration into the legal economy, company managers, mayors and civil servants, including a high-ranking police officer, are in the dock. Long underestimated, the 'Ndrangheta developed quietly for decades as authorities focused their efforts on Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian mafia depicted in films like "The Godfather."
The first maxi-trial was organized against its members in Palermo in 1986, resulting in the conviction of 338 mafiosi. Today, experts estimate that the 'Ndrangheta, made up of about 150 Calabrian families, has an annual turnover of around <> billion euros worldwide.
With the help of Interpol, Italy has managed in recent years to tighten its grip on the criminal network, training police around the world to identify and crack down on 'Ndrangheta's activities on their territory. But despite its size, the trial is unlikely to disrupt the 'Ndrangheta's activities, experts say.
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"I don't believe that a police operation is enough to destroy the 'Ndrangheta," said Nicaso, who highlighted other priorities: employment, education and changing attitudes. "That's what you need to attack a criminal organization."