A landmark ruling by an Italian court sentenced 207 individuals to a total of 2,100 years in prison for their affiliation with the ‘ndrangheta crime syndicate, an entity reputed to be one of the globe’s most influential and affluent drug-trafficking networks. The syndicate’s reach and power have grown silently as the Sicilian Mafia’s influence decreased, making it nearly the sole controller of European cocaine imports.
The judgment unfolded in a fortified courtroom in Calabria, the initial base of the ‘ndrangheta. The syndicate has a strong presence in Italy and the Americas and extends its operations to Africa, as Italian prosecutors assert. Arrests of ‘ndrangheta associates have been made in various European countries as well as Brazil and Lebanon in recent times.
The individuals in the dock faced charges ranging from drug and arms trafficking extortion to mafia association, a term used in Italian law referring to the participation in organized crime groups. Some were accused of aiding the ‘ndrangheta without being official members.
The investigation revolved around 12 clans associated with Luigi Mancuso, a convicted ‘ndrangheta boss. Mancuso, the key figure in the case, served a 19-year sentence in an Italian prison for his leadership role in one of ‘ndrangheta’s most significant crime families headquartered in Vibo Valentia.
Vincenzo Capomolla, Catanzaro’s deputy chief prosecutor, highlighted the ‘ndrangheta’s grip on Vibo Valentia, stating that the organization had deeply infiltrated the province’s social and economic fabric through intimidation and fear.
Critics, however, argued the prosecution lacked a cohesive narrative, pointing to the disparate defendants and noting that over a third of the accused were acquitted. But the former chief prosecutor who initiated the investigation, Nicola Gratteri, justified the broad approach, citing the syndicate’s widespread infiltration of society.
The trial was held in a high-security bunker in Lamezia Terme’s industrial park. Unlike in the past, where blood ties made the ‘ndrangheta almost impervious to betrayal, many individuals, including Mancuso’s relative, turned state’s evidence.
Despite the large number of defendants, this trial does not hold the record for the largest mafia trial in Italy. In 1986, a similar trial took place involving 475 alleged Sicilian Mafia members, resulting in over 300 convictions.
This recent trial, however, focused on exposing the extent of the ‘ndrangheta’s infiltration in Calabria, including collusion with local politicians, public officials, businessmen, and secret societies. Investigations revealed the syndicate’s acquisition of various businesses across Italy, funded by cocaine trafficking revenues, in an attempt to launder illicit earnings and establish a facade of legitimacy. The organization’s buying spree extended across Europe, particularly in tourism and hospitality.