It’s a superlative process: as of Wednesday, more than 350 alleged members and helpers of the Ndrangheta are at the dock in the southern Italian town of Lamezia Terme. A parallel trial will also start in February for about 90 other suspects who have opted for an express trial with confession. More than 900 witnesses have been called.
The 13,500-page indictment contains 400 offenses – half of the criminal code. The charges range from murder, extortion and theft to drug trafficking, illegal possession of weapons and explosives to money laundering and other economic crimes. Almost all of the accused are accused of membership of a mafia-style association. For security reasons, the trial will take place in a purpose-built, 3300-square-foot, bunker-shaped courtroom.
The trial was made possible by the tenacity of Catanzaro’s chief prosecutor, Nicola Gratteri. For four years, the intrepid Mafia hunter had tracked and wiretapped suspected members of the Ndrangheta, questioned Mafia witnesses and dropouts, and tracked down dubious financial flows. Subsequently, 2500 men of the Carabinieri Special Forces ROS – including paratroopers – struck in a major attack code-named “Rinascita-Scott” in various Italian regions.
In December 2019, 334 members and supporters of the Ndrangheta clans from Vibo Valentia province were arrested. In the months that followed, dozens more alleged mafiosi went behind bars or under house arrest. “We have eliminated the top management of the Ndrangheta from Vibo Valentia,” said Gratteri.
Nicola Gratteri is currently the most prominent anti-mafia prosecutor in Italy, putting hundreds of suspects behind bars every year, more than 900 in 2018 alone. Several years ago, Gratteri was also involved in exposing and breaking up the Ndrangheta cells in the Swiss canton of Thurgau and in various German states. The prominent Mafia hunter, who has already published numerous books about the Ndrangheta and has been warning for years about the offshoots of the organization abroad, lives dangerously: he is at the top of the Mafia’s death list and must be guarded around the clock by a dozen bodyguards. .
Even before the trial began, comparisons were made in Italy with the so-called “Maxi trial” against the Sicilian Cosa Nostra: in this trial, carried out by the two famous Mafia hunters Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, there were several hundred Mafia hunters in Palermo in 1987 . Was sentenced to 2,665 years in prison.
The super godfather of the Cosa Nostra, Toto Riina, then took revenge by having Falcone and Borsellino murdered by his assassins with remote-controlled bombs. Ultimately, however, the Sicilian mafia never recovered from the “maxi trial”: the Calabrian Ndrangheta, against whom the new mammoth trial is now beginning, has long replaced Cosa Nostra as the most powerful, brutal and international Italian mafia organization.
As once in Palermo, the defendants in the retrial included not only ordinary mafiosi, but also numerous politicians, business people, lawyers, judicial staff, village police officers and even a Carabinieri general. “What surprised me most about the investigation was the ease with which the Ndrangheta managed to infiltrate public administration, the courts and thus the state as such,” Gratteri emphasizes. Thanks to the connections and complicity of disloyal officials, corrupt businessmen and mafia-style Masons, the clans even managed to get into the databases of the state security organs.
The two key figures in the process are Luigi Mancuso and Giancarlo Pittelli. Mancuso is the boss of the clan of the same name in the small town of Limbadi. He is considered the “cocaine king” of Calabria and, according to investigators, has excellent links with the Colombian drug cartels, their death squads, and also with the Cosa Nostra, which helps distribute the drugs. The lawyer Pittelli, on the other hand, is a former Member of Parliament and Senator of the Berlusconi party Forza Italia and has excellent connections in politics and business.
Mancuso and Pittelli were filmed by undercover agents dining in expensive restaurants in Rome and also having business matters to discuss. According to the indictment, it mainly concerned money laundering. Calabrian regional politicians on the left are also on trial.
The criminal symbiosis of mafia, politics, economics and freemasonry has become possible because the Ndrangheta was long underestimated, Gratteri emphasizes: “ For decades, the story that the Ndrangheta is a mafia made up of simple farmers, herders and perhaps even more has continued. Kidnappers and drug traffickers act. That suited the politicians well: it was suppressed that the Ndrangheta will also vote and let them vote, “said the public prosecutor.
In Calabria, Mafia votes are often decisive in elections. The clans then demand consideration of the politicians elected for their support. These usually consist of awarding public construction contracts and fulfilling public administration positions with clan members.
Not only is politics undermined by the Ndrangheta, but also the economy, chief prosecutor Gratteri emphasizes: bars, restaurants and hotels are used for money laundering – not only in Calabria, but also in Lombardy, Piedmont, Veneto, Liguria, Tuscany, Sicily, Lazio and Emilia-Romagna. Ndrangheta has also made a name for itself in the healthcare and construction sector. Competition is being intimidated and forced to pay protection money: Gratteris estimates that around 40,000 companies in Calabria alone pay the so-called “Pizzo”.
From an economic point of view, the Ndrangheta would actually have no need to extort protection money or obtain government contracts through fraud: the Calabrian clans earn tens of billions of euros every year from the cocaine trade alone, in which they are number one worldwide. “The Ndrangheta is not only concerned with the material, with the money, but especially with demonstrating their power and control over the area,” emphasizes anthropologist and anti-mafia activist Chiara Tommasello from Reggio Calabria. The Ndrangheta wants to take the place of the state: “It strives for absolute and omnipresent authority.” So the protection money almost corresponds to a tax that citizens have to pay to the anti-state mafia.
If someone opposes the clans, they still enforce their demands with intimidation and violence. Last week, a dropout by Ndrangheta shocked the Italian public by saying that a young entrepreneur who disappeared without a trace in Vibo Valentia province three years ago was murdered by the Mancuso clan and her body was subsequently fed to pigs. She had to die because she didn’t want to sell a piece of land to the local boss. Murder and make sure the body never appears again: the procedure is called “lupara bianca” in mafia jargon. The record trial includes four such murders. One of the murdered persons was apparently murdered by his own clan – because he was said to have been homosexual. According to prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, the trial in Lamezia Terme is “a milestone in the fight against ‘Ndrangheta’. Whether it will be as successful as the” Maxi Trial “in Palermo against the Cosa Nostra remains to be seen – Gratteri also wants do not forecast. “The judiciary and the Carabinieri have done their job – it is now up to civil society to fill the public spaces that we have taken from the ‘Ndrangheta,” emphasized Gratteri after the big robbery in December 2019.
Every individual must make his or her contribution to free Calabria, “this haunted region”, from the mafia culture, from the “omertà” (confidentiality of the mafia) and from illegality. “Whether Calabria can make a fresh start depends on the behavior of all of us. There is no point in waiting for someone to do it for us,” said the prosecutor.
The anthropologist Chiara Tommasello sees it the same way: “A fundamental cultural change is needed in Calabria.” In recent decades, the mix of politics and mafia has created a deep-seated distrust among the population in the state institutions – leading many citizens to now believe that there is only one way to live reasonably in peace. : to come to terms with these states and with the “omertà”. At the same time, the ineptitude and corruption of political leadership has made Calabria one of the poorest and most backward regions in the EU, 33-year-old Tommasello said. And it is precisely this poverty that allows the Ndrangheta to consolidate their power and present themselves as the only organization that can still provide jobs for the many unemployed people – whether through illegal activities such as drug trafficking or extortion, or legal and poorly paid in the companies it controls. “
The regional elections in Calabria on April 11 will give the first clues as to whether the cultural change Gratteri and Tommasello are hoping for has begun: in addition to the many old faces and parties of the derelict mafia-style system, there are several new lists of it. citizens with unused, credible candidates in line. “The elections can be a great opportunity for Calabria – or they can dramatically confirm the status quo,” said Chiara Tommasello.
The Ndrangheta – a global organization
Members of the Ndrangheta are currently not alone in the deep south of Italy. Since last autumn, there is also a major lawsuit at the court of Duisburg. The proceedings include cocaine trafficking. Authorities know since the Duisburg Mafia murders that the Calabrian clans have extended their octopus weapons to Germany as well. In addition to North Rhine-Westphalia, Ndrangheta is also particularly active in Baden-Württemberg.
The Calabrian clans have long since spread all over the world: according to the Italian anti-mafia directorate (DNA), the Ndrangheta is the only criminal organization active on all five continents. The DNA emphasizes that mainly Germany and Switzerland have penetrated.
In a telephone conversation – which was overheard – a Ndrangheta boss said to another Mafioso, “The world is made up of two parts: Calabria – and the other part that will become Calabria.” The offshoots abroad serve the clans primarily as a refuge and as a basis for money laundering: the illegally generated billions – the annual turnover of the ‘Ndrangheta is estimated by the DNA at 65 billion euros – are reinvested by straw companies. stdo