Hundreds of suspected members of the dreaded Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta, a powerful Italian mafia, will be tried from Wednesday in a “maxi-trial” which is expected to last more than two years.
Three hundred and fifty-five defendants – including political leaders, civil servants, police officers and businessmen -, 900 witnesses and 400 lawyers will be heard in an enclosure specially designed to host this extraordinary trial, the most important for three decades, in the heart of Calabria, the poorest of the Italian regions plagued by the Mafia.
Fifty-eight prosecution witnesses agreed to break the omerta (the law of silence) to reveal the secrets of the Mancuso clan and its associates
During a recent preliminary hearing, it took no less than three hours to read the names of the accused; in the first rows are the boss Luigi Mancuso, who has already spent nearly 20 years in prison, but also dozens of others, whose nicknames are worthy of a Hollywood movie: “The wolf”, “P’tit fat “,” Blondinet “,” Little goat “…
This trial is also interpreted as a show of force by the state in the heart of the ‘Ndrangheta territory, which controls the flow of cocaine throughout Europe.
At the center of the debates will be the most famous anti-mafia prosecutor of the peninsula, Nicola Gratteri, who has lived under police escort for more than 30 years. The 62-year-old Calabrian played soccer as a child with many of those he later put behind bars. His life is a struggle to destroy “this asphyxiating ‘Ndrangheta”.
By its proportions, this trial is surpassed only by the first maxi-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.
The new, more limited trial targets one of the many families of the ‘Ndrangheta, whose tentacles span the globe. But according to Federico Varese, professor of criminology at the University of Oxford, it is still important by the number of members of the political class, entrepreneurs and civil servants who help the Mafia to function.
“This shows that apart from the criminal organization, there is a part of society that is complicit and helps,” he told AFP. “It’s shocking that a criminal group is so rooted in a region that hundreds of people have to be brought to justice. This trial shows how deeply rooted ‘Ndrangheta is in society. “
Among the accused is former parliamentarian Giancarlo Pittelli, a well-known lawyer and former senator of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, suspected of acting as an intermediary between the ‘Ndrangheta and politics, finance and institutions.
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.
The murder of Filippo Gangitano, murdered by his own cousin because of his homosexuality, is particularly chilling. “This type of behavior cannot exist within the ‘Ndrangheta”, the bosses told the assassin, who has since become a prosecution witness on behalf of the prosecution. Gangitano’s body was buried in a place where a road was later built.
These “maxi-trials” are justified, according to the prosecution, by the close interweaving of many cases, even if defense lawyers believe that in 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 lead to many convictions, it will be considered a failure,” said Nicola Lo Torto, one of the defense lawyers, in an interview with AFP.
And even in the event of success, the ‘Ndrangheta will not disappear for all that: “One can throw mafiosi in prison, but if one does not pull out the roots at the origin of their existence, they will reproduce, quite simply”, warns Federico Varese.