Italy’s biggest mafia trial in more than 30 years begins on Wednesday, as prosecutors hope to strike a blow at the crime syndicate ‘Ndrangheta, whose tentacles are reaching the world.
More than 350 suspected Mafia members and politicians, lawyers, businessmen and others accused of empowering them will face a judge in a huge specially-appointed courtroom in the southern town of Lamezia Terme. of Calabria, in the heart of the territory of ‘Ndrangheta.
Oxford University criminologist Federico Varese said the trial reflected the far-reaching control of the ‘Ndrangheta, who are integrated into the community and involved in all legal and illicit activities.
“The real strength of these mafia families is that they control the territory and that they do everything in the territory,” said Varèse. “If you want to open a shop, if you want to build anything, you have to go through them.”
“They are the authority.”
Prosecutors seek to prove a network of crimes dating back to the 1990s, including murder, drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering and abuse of power.
The trial “is a cornerstone in building a wall against the Mafias in Italy,” anti-mob prosecutor Nicola Gratteri told AFP news agency.
In Italy, the so-called “maxi-trials”, which include dozens of defendants and countless charges, are considered the best judicial resource against the various organized criminal groups in the country, of which the ‘Ndrangheta is. now considered the most powerful, controlling most of the cocaine entering Europe.
The most famous maxi-trial of 1986-87 dealt Cosa Nostra in Sicily a heavy blow, resulting in 338 guilty verdicts, but prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were subsequently murdered by mobs.
The ongoing trial, which is expected to last at least a year and probably longer, includes 355 defendants, more than 900 prosecution witnesses and an unprecedented number of collaborators, given the close family ties within the ‘Ndrangheta which discourage the turners. .
Antonella Massaro, professor of criminal law at the University of Rome 3, told Al Jazeera that the trial was “very important” and could help open the secret union ‘Ndrangheta.
“La Ndrangheta, compared to Cosa Nostra [the Sicilian Mafia], is based on a close family network, ”said Massaro.
“Until now, it has been difficult to make them judge because the logic of collaboration of the initiates has [not been] effective – within the family you tend to protect.
“Potentially, you discover a Pandora’s Box so striking that it could have an effect on the consciousness of the inhabitants of these lands.”
However, she did not expect things to change at this “historic moment” in southern Italy amid the coronavirus pandemic, as economically struggling people would likely turn to organized crime for help. support.
‘Like a multinational’
The ‘Ndrangheta has expanded beyond its traditional areas of drug trafficking and credit theft, now using shell companies and leaders to reinvest illegal gains into the legitimate economy.
In many parts of Calabria, it has infiltrated virtually every area of public life, from town hall and hospitals to cemeteries and even courts, according to experts.
Authorities estimate that there are some 150 Ndrangheta families in Calabria and at least 6,000 members and affiliates in the region. That swells to thousands more if you include those around the world, although estimates are unreliable.
“When the Mafia… grew across Europe, especially in Germany, its structure changed and became more recognizable,” Massaro said.
The organized crime group generates more than 50 billion euros ($ 61 billion) a year, according to Gratteri, who called it the richest organization of its kind in the world.
The prosecutor explained the ‘Ndrangheta as a network of families, each of which exercises power over their subordinates.
“I have to start with the idea that there is an organization, like in a company, like in a large multinational, with a boss and then down, like a pyramid, to all the other members,” Gratteri said. .
Rub shoulders with condition
The current essay focuses on one family, the Mancuso Group, and its network of associates who control the region of Vibo Valentia in Calabria.
The town of Lamezia Terme, where the trial will take place, was cited in a 2008 parliamentary report on organized crime as a public safety emergency zone where “the greatest increase in serious bloodshed in the region has been registered ”.
The defendants include a large number of non-clan members, including a former parliamentarian, a senior police official, mayors and other officials and businessmen.
The Mancuso gang rubbed shoulders with state apparatuses, which were “literally” at their disposal, Gratteri said, following a wave of arrests in December 2019 across Italy and Europe that led to the trial.
Stefannie Dekker of Al Jazeera, Rome, said: “If there are any convictions regarding this particular family and its associations, there are [still] much more powerful families within the ‘Ndrangheta who can continue to function.
“WWe’re not even going to see a dent in the operations of the organization, but certainly the lawsuit … shows that people are starting to talk, or have a little more confidence in the legal system.
Additional Al Jazeera’s Reports Virginie pietromarchi.