Italy mafia trial: 200 sentenced to 2,200 years for mob links
In one of Italy’s most significant mafia trials in decades, over 200 defendants have been collectively handed more than 2,200 years in prison sentences.
The extensive three-year trial focused on individuals with alleged ties to the ‘Ndrangheta, who were charged with a range of offenses from extortion to drug trafficking. Noteworthy among the convicted is a former Italian senator, though the verdicts remain subject to appeal.
The ‘Ndrangheta, recognized as one of Europe’s most powerful criminal organizations, was spotlighted in this case, revealing its pervasive influence on the politics and society of southern Italy.
Analysts pointed to the convictions of white-collar professionals, including local officials, businessmen, and politicians, as evidence of organized crime’s profound impact on Italian institutions.
Giancarlo Pittelli, a lawyer and former senator affiliated with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, received an 11-year sentence for colluding with a mafia-type organization.
The list of those convicted encompasses civil servants, professionals from diverse sectors, and high-ranking officials crucial to the ‘Ndrangheta’s successful infiltration of the legitimate economy and state institutions.
However, more than 100 defendants were acquitted in the trial. Concerns for the safety of the presiding judges led to them being placed under police protection, underscoring the high stakes and risks associated with prosecuting such influential criminal networks.
Originating in the impoverished region of Calabria, the ‘Ndrangheta is considered one of the world’s most dangerous criminal organizations. It is estimated to control as much as 80% of Europe’s cocaine market.
The gang boasts an estimated annual turnover of around $60bn (£49bn).
The trial was held in a call center on the outskirts of the town of Lamezia Terme, converted into a high-security courtroom equipped with cages to hold the defendants and large enough to hold some 600 lawyers and 900 witnesses.
Charges included murder, extortion, drug trafficking, loan sharking, abuse of office, and money laundering.
Over three years, proceedings demonstrated how the Calabrian syndicate extended its reach across continents, eventually operating as far afield as South America and Australia.
Its members infiltrated the local economy, public institutions, and even the health system, rigging public tenders and bribing local officials.
The trial, the largest of its kind since the 1980s, saw judges examine thousands of hours of testimony. Former mobsters turned collaborators with the justice system testified about the activities of the Mancuso family and their associates, who wield extensive control over the province of Vibo Valentia.
The Mancuso family, from the town of Limbadi, is one of the most powerful of the 150 clans that make up the ‘Ndrangheta.
Anna Sergi, a professor of criminology at the University of Exeter, said: “This trial confirms convictions of classic mafiosi, sentenced for offenses traditionally more associated with criminal activities, such as extortion or drug trafficking.”
She added: “However, it is important to note how the different types of people involved, including white-collar workers, provide a more comprehensive view of the entire province and the connections between various mafia clans.”
Most of the defendants were arrested in December 2019, following an extensive investigation spanning at least 11 Italian regions, which began in 2016. Approximately 2,500 officers took part in raids targeting suspects in Vibo Valentia, an area primarily controlled by the ‘Ndragheta’s Mancuso clan.
More than 50 former mafia members agreed to cooperate with the trial, among them Luigi Mancuso’s nephew, Emanuele.
Their testimony shed light on the inner workings of one of Italy’s most powerful mobs. The trial revealed that ‘Ndrangheta members allegedly concealed weapons in cemetery chapels, used ambulances for drug transportation, and diverted public water supplies to grow marijuana.
Those who opposed the organized crime group faced grim consequences, including finding dead puppies and goat heads left in front of their houses, torched cars, and vandalized shop windows.
“This first round of sentences demonstrates how challenging it is to combat the ‘Ndrangheta due to its political, economic, and financial connections,” Antonio Nicaso, a writer and organized crime expert, said.