The trial, the start of which we also reported at the time, has been going on for almost three years against hundreds of members of the Italian ‘Ndrangheta criminal organization and their helpers. Today, this group is considered one of the most extensive, powerful and richest drug trafficking organizations. Incidentally, this is the second largest Italian mafia trial after the conviction of members of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra in 1986. The current trial was hosted by a small town in the rather poor province of Calabria in southern Italy, because the ‘Ndrangheta itself started from there.
Its quiet, stealthy strengthening in Italy and abroad was primarily due to the fact that the Sicilian mafia lost its influence and the authorities weakened the Camorra in Naples. As a result, the Calabrian group now controls almost the entire European cocaine market. According to anti-mafia prosecutors investigating in the southern Italian region, the organization already has a stable base in South and North America, but they are also active in Africa. In recent years, apart from Europe, ‘Ndrangheta members have also been detained in Brazil and Lebanon.
Meeting room in a bomb-proof bunker
The trial was held in a super-secure concrete bunker built in an industrial park in the small Calabrian town of Lamezia Terme. There were 320 defendants who were suspected of drug and arms trafficking, extortion and mafia connections, the latter being the terminology covering members of criminal organizations in the Italian legal system. And others were accused of collaborating with the ‘Ndrangheta, people who were not members of the criminal organization but helped it.
The courtroom is about 3,000 square meters, as it had to be provided not only for the hundreds of defendants, but also for their lawyers. In order for everyone to be able to follow the trial, giant projectors were hung, and other prisoners in remote prisons were interviewed by prosecutors online.
Since the ‘Ndrangheta is very strongly based on kinship ties, it has not been typical for anyone to “speak out” in recent decades. This time, however, there were whispers from the inside, but among the informants were also members of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra. At the beginning of the current trial, it was said that more than 900 witnesses and 24,000 hours of wiretapped evidence were planned to be heard.
Most of the defendants were those who were arrested in December 2019: they are members of the Mancuso clan, which dominates the Vibo Valentia area in southern Italy, as well as many local mayors, provincial board members, entrepreneurs and members of Masonic groups. As revealed during the investigation, 12 clans were connected to the head of the organization, Luigi Mancuso, who spent 19 years in prison during his life.
In the biggest mafia trial, in 1986, when the Sicilian mafia was dealt with by the Italian justice system, 475 suspected mafia members sat on the dock in Palermo, in a bunker built very similar to the one now, guarded by army units outside.
The former chief anti-mafia prosecutor and representative, Federico Cafiero De Raho, believes that this trial is very important, APNews quoted him as saying.
Every trial against the ‘Ndrangheta is also a serious message, and not only to Calabria, but to the whole nation, that we dare to take action against them.
The conclusion of the attorney general is strengthened by the fact that the ‘Ndrangheta weaves through the entire economy of the region it controls, from the construction industry to the hospitality industry and tourism. It has significant interests in the energy industry and has not remained far from the operation of migrant camps in Calabria financed by the European Union and the Italian state. The organization has never renounced usury and the collection of defense funds, and it also willingly participates in public procurement tenders through its institutional political connections.
(Cover image: Brigida Cavasino, President of the Judicial Council, reads the verdicts in the presence of two judges, Claudia Caputo and Germana Radice, at the Lamezia Terme in Calabria, Italy, on November 20, 2023. Photo: Valeria Ferraro / MTI)