Biggest anti-mafia trial in 30 years begins in Italy

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The largest anti-mafia trial in more than 30 years in Italy, which targets some 350 suspected members of the 'Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia, opened on Wednesday.

Chaired by judge Tiziana Macri, it takes place under the leadership of famous prosecutor Nicola Gratteri in a large warehouse specially fitted out as a court in Lamezia Terme, in Calabria, in the south of Italy.

Some 350 'Ndranghetists, but also local elected officials, officials, police officers and entrepreneurs, will parade at the helm, most often by videoconference because of the coronavirus pandemic.

900 witnesses and 400 lawyers are also expected during this extraordinary river trial, organized in the heart of the poorest Italian region against a formidable criminal organization which controls the flow of cocaine throughout Europe.

On the dock, boss Luigi Mancuso, who has already spent nearly 20 years in prison, but also dozens of others with nicknames worthy of a Hollywood movie: the wolf, Little Fat, Blondinet, Little Goat

This mega-trial is a milestone in building a wall against mafias in ItalyProsecutor Nicola Gratteri told AFP on the eve of the opening of the proceedings.

(This trial) wants to give a precise idea of ​​the Calabrian Mafia today, no longer a Mafia of shepherds kidnapping people, but a crime holding company.

Nicola Gratteri, prosecutor

By its proportions, this trial is only exceeded by the first mega-trial of 1986-1987 in Palermo against the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, at the end of which 338 defendants were convicted.

Judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were then assassinated by the Mafia.

Nicola Gratteri, mask in hand, in the middle of a public square.

Prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, protected by police, January 11, 2021, in Rome.

Photo: Getty Images / AFP / ALBERTO PIZZOLI

Dozens of witnesses break the omertà

A rare occurrence for the 'Ndrangheta, which was built on blood ties and ruthlessly punishes repented, 58 prosecution witnesses agreed to break the omertà, the law of silence, to reveal the secrets of the Mancuso clan and its associates.

Most of the defendants were arrested in police raids in December 2019 in Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Bulgaria.

The range of crimes and offenses for which they are accused is wide: mafia association, murder and attempted murder, drug trafficking, usury, abuse of power, concealment and money laundering.

In Calabria, the mafia has infiltrated almost all spheres of public life, town halls, hospitals, cemeteries and even courts, according to experts.

Authorities estimate the number of 'Ndrangheta families at 150 and at least 6,000 members and associates in Calabria.

Thousands more elsewhere in the world, in South America and New York in particular, for an annual turnover of 50 billion euros (CA $ 78 billion), according to prosecutor Gratteri.

These mega-trials are justified, according to the prosecution, by the close interweaving of many cases, even if the defense lawyers consider that, under these conditions, it is difficult to ensure each accused a fair and equitable trial.

The stakes are high for Nicola Gratteri. If the trial does not result in many convictions, it will be considered a failure., believes Nicola Lo Torto, one of the defense lawyers, in an interview with AFP.

And even if successful, the 'Ndrangheta will not disappear: Mafiosi can be thrown in jail, but if we don't pull out the roots of their existence, they will simply reproduce., warns Federico Varese, professor of Criminology at the University of Oxford.

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