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More than 200 mobsters get over 2,000 years in historic Italian mafia trial

More than 200 mobsters get over 2,000 years in historic Italian mafia trial

Tuesday, November 21, 2023, 14:08 GMT+7
More than 200 mobsters get over 2,000 years in historic Italian mafia trial
Lawyers wait for the reading of the verdict during the maxi mafia trial in Calabria. Photo: AFP

An Italian court on Monday 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, steadily 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 videolink.

Prosecutors had asked for sentences totalling nearly 5,000 years for 322 accused mafia members operating in the Calabrian province of Vibo Valentia and their collaborators who have exercised a virtual stranglehold over the local population.

But after a trial that lasted two years and nine months, the court doled out under half that total time, about 2,150 years collectively, with the convictions of 207 defendants Monday. That included four seasoned members of the 'Ndrangheta each sentenced to three decades in jail.

The three-judge panel acquitted 131 defendants, including one whom prosecutors said controlled mafia activities within the prison and another accused of helping commandeer a public road and adjoining private land to use for grazing sheep.

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 defence lawyer Giancarlo Pittelli, accused of being a fixer for the mafia.

He received 11 years, short of the 17 years prosecutors had requested.

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.

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 organised crime syndicates.

Giuseppe Borrello, the local representative for 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 charted out, that's the most important thing," Borrello told 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.

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.

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 defendants list last year to be tried separately.

For the first time in such trials, the defendants list 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, as did another police officer who received two-and-a-half years.

'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 terrorised 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, dolphins or goat heads dumped on their doorsteps, sledgehammers taken to store fronts or cars torched.

Less lucky were those beaten or fired at -- or those whose bodies were never found.

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, telling AFP it should be "filled with citizens... to show the judges that we're on their side."

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 euros ($53 billion) annually around the world from drug trafficking, usury, syphoning public funds and extortion.

Relying on frontmen and shell companies, the 'Ndrangheta reinvests illegal gains in the legitimate global economy, cementing its power.



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