ROME – In a large temporary courtroom in the Calabria region, the tip of the southern Italian boot-shaped peninsula, 350 people are being tried this month in the largest and most important congregation of the month. organized crime trials in more than 30 years.
It took more than three hours to read the names of the defendants.
This landmark case pits one of Europe’s most feared crime syndicates, ‘Ndrangheta, against a man who has dedicated his life to assassinating him.
Nicola Gratteri, the prosecutor, who had become the public face of the trial, led the investigation four years earlier. For Gratteri, a Calabrian with 30 years of fighting the masses behind him, it was a personal matter.
“I was born in Calabria, I love my land, and I want to see it free from the mafia,” he said. “And that’s what I’ve been doing since 1986 as a judge: fighting ‘Ndrangheta.”
Gratteri said the massive investigation gathered 15,000 pages of evidence and intercepted 24,000 hours of conversation.
Mass association, murder, attempted murder, drug trafficking, extortion, moneylenders, official disclosure, abuse of office, possession of stolen property and money laundering – these are just some of the charges that will be tried during a trial that is expected to last at least one year, with the trial at the city of Lamezia Terme sits six days a week.
“And although there are hundreds of defendants at trial, this is just the beginning,” said Gratteri.
On Thursday, 370 Italian police officers carried out multiple raids against ‘Ndrangheta across the country, which led to dozens of arrests and seizures of 300 million euros worth of property, vehicles and bank accounts.
Gratteri said the group was “by far the most powerful, violent and violent mafia” – more so than the Sicilian Mafia. ‘Ndrangheta, he said, are the only mafia groups that exist on all continents, including America.
Gratteri, 62, has spent most of the past three decades with bodyguards and police bodyguards nearby protecting her from the credible threats of her life. He was traveling in an armored car and said he had not been to a restaurant in over 20 years.
The courtroom, the converted call center in Lamezia Terme, has a cage to accommodate the accused and room for 1,000 people. About 900 witnesses will provide evidence over the next 12 months, with 400 lawyers in attendance.
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‘Ndrangheta – the name comes from a Greek word meaning “society of respectable people” – has been associated with kidnapping, murder and international drug trafficking.
Authorities linked murder group of six Italians in the German city of Duisburg in 2007, when The Ndrangheta’s fame waned that Cosa Nostra of Sicily, the subject of Italy’s last major mass trial in 1986.
When a drug-related dispute involving ‘Ndrangheta occurred the murder of a 3 year old boy in 2014 in the city of Cassano all’Ionio Calabria, it shocked the nation. Pope Francis visited the city and comforted the boy’s father before cursing the criminal group.
Among the defendants were several members of the Mancuso family, including the man suspected of being kingpin, Luigi Mancuso, also known as “Uncle,” who is serving 19 years in prison for leading what prosecutors say is one of the ‘most powerful Ndrangheta’. family.
The other defendants, prosecutors said, used a line of colorful nicknames, including “The Wolf,” “Fatty,” “Sweetie,” “Blondie,” “Little Goat,” and “The Wringer.”
Gratteri said the ‘Ndrangheta started as a “group of shepherds” who specialized in kidnapping for ransom. In the 1990s, they started trafficking in cocaine and became Europe’s biggest drug dealer, he said.
The group is investing and launder the money generated from drug sales by buying legitimate businesses across Europe, he said. But the group’s reach goes even further.
“They also use the money to ‘penetrate’ public administration by destroying state employees, professionals, politicians, lawyers,” said Gratteri.
The public officials were also among the accused, said Gratteri.
Antonio Nicaso, a lecturer at Queen’s University in Ontario who specializes in Italian crime groups, said: “‘The Ndrangheta is one of the richest, most powerful and violent criminal organizations in the world, with branches all over the world. Yet it is one of the least. known. “
In 2013, ‘Ndrangheta made 53 billion euros ($ 64.5 billion), more than Deutsche Bank and McDonald’s combined, according to the Italian research group Demoskopika.
Trials are important because they target not only the criminal family itself, but also people “drawn” to it and make it possible, said Nicaso, including senators, police chiefs, lawyers and local council members.
“One of the greatest strengths of ‘Ndrangheta is its ability to connect the underworld with the outside world,” he said.
Claudio Lavanga reporting from Rome; Patrick Smith reporting from London.
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