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AFP
January 14, 2021

Major Italian mafia trial kicks off

World

AFP
January 14, 2021

LAMEZIA TERME: Italy’s largest mafia trial in more than 30 years opened on Wednesday, as prosecutors seek to strike a blow against the ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate, whose tentacles reach worldwide.

More than 350 alleged members of the mafia and the politicians, lawyers, businessmen and others accused of enabling them face a judge in a specially converted courtroom in the southern Calabrian town of Lamezia Terme, in the heart of ‘Ndrangheta territory.

They are accused of a web of crimes dating back to the 1990s, both bloody and white-collar, including murder, drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering and abuse of office.

Anti-mob prosecutor Nicola Gratteri said it was an “important day”, telling reporters outside court that the trial would “give the idea of what the Calabrian mafia is today—no longer a mafia of shepherds dedicated to kidnapping, but a major criminal corporation”.

He later sat in the front row of the courtroom as Judge Tiziana Macri began reading out the names of the defendants, none of whom attended in person but who participated via video conference, their faces shown on dozens of televisions fitted over lines of grey desks.

In Italy, so-called “maxi-trials,” which include scores of defendants and countless charges, are seen as the best judicial resource against the country’s various organised crime groups, of which the ‘Ndrangheta is now considered the most powerful, controlling the bulk of cocaine flowing into Europe.

The most famous “maxi-trial” of 1986-7 dealt a major blow to Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, resulting in 338 guilty verdicts, but prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were later assassinated by the mob.

The current trial, expected to last at least a year and likely longer, features 355 defendants, more than 900 prosecution witnesses, and an unprecedented number of collaborators, given the close family ties within the ‘Ndrangheta that discourage turncoats.

Authorities believe there are some 150 ‘Ndrangheta families in Calabria and at least 6,000 members and affiliates in the region. That swells to thousands worldwide, although estimates are unreliable. The organised crime group generates more than 50 billion euros ($61 billion) per year, according to Gratteri, who called it the world’s richest such organisation.