The Guardian

200 mobsters jailed in Italian ‘maxi trial’

Lorenzo Tondo Palermo

An Italian court has convicted and sentenced more than 200 people of crimes including criminal association, extortion and bribery in what has been described as Italy’s largest mafia trial in three decades.

The verdicts mark the end of a three-year “maxi trial” held in a highsecurity courtroom in the southern region of Calabria. It was built specially to hold up to 350 defendants, 400 lawyers and the 900 witnesses providing testimony against an extensive network belonging to the notorious ’Ndrangheta.

Although more than 100 were acquitted by the court in the town of Lamezia Terme, the sentencing represented one of the most significant blows to date against the organised crime syndicate, which has a near monopoly on Europe’s cocaine trade.

Almost all of the defendants were arrested in December 2019 after an investigation that began in 2016 and covered at least 11 Italian regions. About 2,500 officers participated in raids focused on suspects in Vibo Valentia, Calabria, the heart of an area controlled mainly by the ’Ndrangheta’s Mancuso clan.

An elite carabinieri unit known as the Cacciatori several suspects hiding in bunkers, behind sliding staircases and in hidden trapdoors. A police chief, local councillors and businessmen accused of aiding the mafia were arrested in Germany, Switzerland and Bulgaria. The former Forza Italia MP Giancarlo Pittelli was jailed for 11 years.

Nicola Gratteri, an anti-mafia prosecutor who led the investigation, told the Guardian that it was the biggest operation against a crime syndicate since the 1986-92 Palermo maxi trials, when Sicilian prosecutors put 475 people in the dock. For the ’Ndrangheta trial, Gratteri’s team collected 24,000 wiretaps and intercepted conversations to back up their charges.

Investigators provided extensive evidence of the oppressive tactics employed by the ’Ndrangheta in its control of the community in Vibo Valentia, a poor rural area , including violence, extortion, corruption in public contracts, election manipulation and bribery.

With members known as "The Wolf ”, “Fatty”, “Sweetie” and “Lamb Thigh”, the criminals struck fear into business owners and farmers, while enjoying protection from politicians. Informants revealed details such as weapons hidden in cemetery chapels and drugs transported in ambulances. They also disclosed that municipal water supplies had been diverted for marijuana cultivation.

Those who dared to oppose the ’Ndrangheta were met with violence and intimidation, including the dumping of dead puppies, dolphins and goats’ heads on doorsteps, sledgehammer attacks on storefronts, and arson of vehicles. Some suffered physical assaults, disappeared without a trace, or were killed.

Yesterday Gratteri, who was nominated Naples’s chief prosecutor this year, said: “We are very satisfied. We have finally demonstrated that there was a network of white-collar workers, entrepreneurs, and politicians doing business with Calabrian clans.”

Most of those sentenced in the maxi trial said they would appeal.