Major Blow to Organized Crime: Over 200 Convicted in Historic ‘Ndrangheta Mafia Trial in Italy

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Almost all of the defendants were arrested in December 2019 after a lengthy investigation that began in 2016 and covered at least 11 Italian regions. Photograph: Valeria Ferraro/AP

Italian Court Delivers Historic Blow to One of the World’s Most Powerful Crime Syndicates

In a landmark legal battle against organized crime, an Italian tribunal has delivered a groundbreaking verdict in the maxi-trial of the ‘Ndrangheta, one of the world’s most powerful and wealthy crime syndicates. The trial, reminiscent of the famous 1986 Sicilian Mafia maxi-trial, took place in a high-security bunker in Calabria, southern Italy, where the mob organization has its roots.

After a comprehensive investigation spanning several years, the court convicted 207 individuals, sentencing them to a combined total of over 2,100 years in prison. The charges included drug and arms trafficking, extortion, mafia association, and complicity in organized crime. Despite these convictions, 131 defendants were acquitted in a session that took over an hour and 40 minutes to pronounce the verdicts.

The high-security courtroom in Calabria was built specifically to hold up to 350 defendants, accommodate 400 lawyers and hear from the 900 witnesses providing testimony. Photograph: Valeria Ferraro/AP

The ‘Ndrangheta, known for its near-monopoly on European cocaine importation, has seen its power surge as the Sicilian Mafia’s influence waned. With bases across Italy and as far-reaching as North and South America, Africa, and Lebanon, their global network is extensive.

Key figures such as Luigi Mancuso, who led one of the most powerful ‘Ndrangheta families, have been central to this trial. Mancuso, previously imprisoned for 19 years, was linked to 12 clans under investigation.

People arrive at a specially constructed bunker for a hearing of a maxi-trial of hundreds of people accused of membership in Italy’s ‘ndrangheta organized crime syndicate, one of the world’s most powerful, extensive and wealthy drug-trafficking groups, in Lamezia Terme, southern Italy, Monday, Nov. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Valeria Ferraro)

Vincenzo Capomolla, the deputy chief prosecutor of Catanzaro, emphasized the gravity of the ‘Ndrangheta’s influence: “The infiltration of the criminal organization in the province of Vibo Valentia was so deep-rooted and widespread, so alarming and disturbing, that there was no aspect of the social-economic fabric of the province not conditioned by this dangerous criminal organization.”

However, defense attorney Giuseppe Di Renzo pointed out that more than a third of the defendants were fully acquitted, suggesting a lack of cohesion in the prosecution’s case. In contrast, Nicola Gratteri, the former chief prosecutor who initiated the investigation, argued that mafia trials often necessitate casting a wide net due to the syndicates’ extensive societal infiltration.

Officials listen as judges read the verdicts of a maxi-trial of hundreds of people accused of membership in Italy’s ‘ndrangheta organized crime syndicate, one of the world’s most powerful, extensive and wealthy drug-trafficking groups, in Lamezia Terme, southern Italy, Monday, Nov. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Valeria Ferraro)

The trial highlighted the ‘Ndrangheta’s ruthless tactics, including violent attacks and corruption in public contracts. The organization’s influence extends beyond criminal activities, as they have invested in legitimate businesses across Europe, particularly in the tourism and hospitality sectors, to launder illicit revenues.

While the trial marks a significant victory against organized crime, it also underscores the profound challenges in dismantling such deeply entrenched criminal networks. The ‘Ndrangheta’s reach into public institutions and local economies illustrates the complex battle against mafia influence in Italy and beyond.