The defendant in the trial will watch the trial from inside a cage which is prohibited. Photo / Getty Images
The largest mafia trial in more than 30 years is set to begin, as more than 350 mafia suspects and their collaborators face trial in a large custom-built courtroom in southern Italy.
On trial will be a member of the ‘Ndrangheta, a network of clans based in Calabria, at the toe of the Italian boot.
It is considered the most powerful of the Italian mafia organizations, having surpassed Sicily’s more famous Cosa Nostra.
“It is the most dangerous and exists on every continent,” said Nicola Gratteri, a leading prosecutor at the trial who has lived under police protection for 30 years.
“And it’s the richest because it has a virtual monopoly on the import of cocaine into Europe,” he told AFP, guarded by three plainclothes police officers wearing black balaclavas to hide their identities.
Drug trafficking generates’ Ndrangheta around € 50 billion euros a year. The network is also notorious for its brutality – last week it claimed that a businesswoman from Calabria was killed and fed pork in 2016 after refusing to sell her land to a man with ‘Ndrangheta connections.
Defendant Mafiosi faces charges ranging from murder and attempted murder to drug trafficking, money laundering and extortion.
Also on trial are accountants, lawyers, civil servants and politicians suspected of working with mafia bosses. More than 900 prosecution witnesses will be summoned in the trial which will involve 400 lawyers.
It is the largest mass trial since the 1980s, when a similar judicial marathon held in Palermo dealt a crushing blow to the Cosa Nostra mafia in Sicily.
The trial process, which is expected to last at least two years, will take place in a fortified courthouse in an industrial area outside the city of Lamezia Terme in Calabria.
The members of the mafia on trial came from a clan in the city of Vibo Valentia, and did not include the powerful godfather based in the southern city of Reggio Calabria.
One of the most prominent figures on trial is Luigi Mancuso, who is suspected of continuing to run drug trafficking operations despite spending most of his adult life behind bars.
“I think the impact of the trial will be limited because it doesn’t target the most important person, apart from Mancuso,” said Anna Sergi, an expert on Italian mafia at Essex University.
“He is the youngest of 11 children, a very charismatic figure. He is considered the leader of the sect,” he told the British Telegraph. “He’s a major player in the drug trafficking and creating connections all over Europe, especially in Germany.”
‘Ndrangheta – a name that comes from a Greek word meaning “society of respectable people” – has so far only “spread” in Britain, said Prof Sergi.
“They use the London banking system to launder money from all over Europe but they don’t have as much physical presence in the UK as in other countries.”
Gratteri, the prosecutor, has deep knowledge of ‘Ndrangheta – as a boy he went to school with the children of the mafia bosses. “I understand their criminal philosophy, their reasons,” he said.
After seeing the corrupt influence of the masses in his home area, he said he had vowed to do something about it when he grew up.
Many of the defendants were arrested during a series of coordinated pre-dawn raids in Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Bulgaria in December 2019.
At one of the raided properties, police find a piece of paper with details of a secret blood oath to be sworn by new recruits’ Ndrangheta, laden with esoteric references to swords and white horses.
The raids were raids carried out by members of the police, some of whom were equipped with night-vision goggles, as well as soldiers from the Army parachute regiment and elite tactical units carried by helicopters.
– Telegraph Media Group