Hundreds convicted in historic Italian mafia trial

Hundreds convicted in historic Italian mafia trial

An Italian court on Monday, November 20, convicted more than 200 mobsters and their white-collar helpers, the culmination of a historic, nearly three-year trial against Calabria’s notorious ‘Ndrangheta mafia.

For over an hour and a half, the president of the court in southern Vibo Valentia, Brigida Cavasino, continuously read out the names of the guilty and their sentences, which ranged from 30 years to a few months, as defendants incarcerated in prisons across the country watched via video link.

Prosecutors had asked for sentences totaling nearly 5,000 years for 322 accused mafia members operating in the Calabrian province of Vibo Valentia and their white-collar collaborators who have exercised a virtual stranglehold over the local population. But after a trial that lasted two years and nine months, the court suffered just about half that total time, with convictions of 207 defendants Monday, including four seasoned members of the ‘Ndrangheta each sentenced to 30 years in jail. The three-judge panel acquitted 131 defendants, including 16 for whom prosecutors had recommended acquittal.

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The verdicts – which can be appealed twice – capped Italy’s largest mafia trial in decades and, despite Monday’s acquittals, mark the most significant blow to date against one of the world’s most powerful organized crime syndicates.

A few dozen family members sat in the back of the vast, narrow courtroom, squinting at the television screens for a glimpse of their loved ones in prison, and occasionally crying out with joy over a light sentence.

Giuseppe Borrello, the local representative for the anti-mafia association Libera, said the verdict showed that prosecutors’ efforts were working, even if they fell short for all suspects. “The road is still long but it’s been chartered out, that’s the most important thing,” Borrello told Agence France-Presse (AFP). “The strong message it [the verdict] sends is that the sense of impunity that has very often been felt in our territory is gone.”

Ambushes and shakedowns

The ‘Ndrangheta has flourished beyond its roots in the poor region of Calabria, at the toe of Italy’s boot, to exercise a near-monopoly on the European cocaine trade, and is now found in more than 40 countries worldwide. Underscoring the ‘Ndrangheta’s close ties with the powerful, one of the trial’s most high-profile defendants was 70-year-old former parliamentarian and defense lawyer Giancarlo Pittelli, accused of being a fixer for the mafia. He received 11 years, short of the 17 years prosecutors had requested.

Since the trial began in January 2021, the court has heard thousands of hours of testimony, including from more than 50 former mafia operatives turned state witnesses, detailing countless examples of the ‘Ndrangheta’s brutality and its iron grip on the territory. They include carrying out violent ambushes, shaking down business owners, rigging public tenders, stockpiling weapons, collecting votes or passing kickbacks to the powerful.

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Despite its breadth, the trial focused on just one top ‘Ndrangheta “clan,” or family group, dominating Vibo Valentia, one of the region’s many economically depressed rural areas. The territory’s undisputed boss, Luigi “The Supreme” Mancuso, 69, was cut from the list of defendants last year to be tried separately.

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For the first time in such trials, the list of defendants included many non-mafia members, including police, public servants and others. The court handed a sentence of 10 years in prison to a high-ranking member of the financial police working within Italy’s anti-mafia department. He was found guilty of passing along details from judicial investigations to the ‘Ndrangheta.

‘We don’t want you’

The trial revealed how the ‘Ndrangheta – whose members boast nicknames straight out of Hollywood like “The Wolf,” “Fatty,” “Sweetie” and “Lamb Thigh” – suffocated the local economy, infiltrated public institutions and terrorized its people for decades.

Informants – a relatively rare phenomenon within the ‘Ndrangheta due to blood ties between members – recounted how weapons were hidden in cemetery chapels and ambulances used to transport drugs, and municipal water supplies diverted to marijuana crops. Those who opposed the mafia found dead puppies, dolphin or goat heads dumped on their doorsteps, sledgehammers taken to storefronts or cars torched. Less lucky were those beaten or fired at – or those whose bodies were never found.

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Hundreds of lawyers and a few dozen members of the media attended the sentencing in the heavily secured courtroom bunker in the Calabrian city of Lamezia Terme. Also present was Rocco Mangiardi, 67, a local businessman and one of the first to denounce the ‘Ndrangheta for extortion before a judge in 2009. Mangiardi, who has lived under police escort ever since lamented the low turnout for the trial’s most important moment. “This courtroom should be filled with citizens,” he told AFP. “To show the judges that we’re on their side and then to tell the mafiosi with their presence ‘We don’t want you.'”

Long dismissed as mere livestock thieves, the ‘Ndrangheta flourished under the radar for decades as authorities concentrated efforts against Sicily’s Cosa Nostra – defendants in the first, now-legendary maxi-trial of 1986-1987 in Palermo. Today, mafia experts estimate that the ‘Ndrangheta, made up of approximately 150 Calabrian families and their associates, bring in more than €50 billion ($53 billion) annually around the world from drug trafficking, usury, siphoning public funds and extortion. Relying on frontmen, shell companies and favors from the elite, the ‘Ndrangheta reinvests illegal gains in the legitimate global economy, cementing its power.

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Le Monde with AFP


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