LAMEZIA TERME, Italy (AP) — An Italian court on Monday convicted 207 people and sentenced them to a total of 2,100 years in prison on charges related to their membership in the Italian organized crime syndicate ‘ndrangheta, one of the most powerful, vast and richest in the world. drug trafficking groups.
It took more than an hour and 40 minutes to read aloud the court’s lengthy verdict, including the acquittal of 131 other defendants. The drama unfolded in a courtroom in the southern region of Calabria, where the mafia organization was initially based.
The ‘ndrangheta quietly gained power in Italy and abroad as the Sicilian mafia lost influence and now has a virtual monopoly on importing cocaine into Europe, according to anti-mafia prosecutors who led the investigation in southern Italy. The organization also has bases in North and South America and is active in Africa, Italian prosecutors say, and ‘ndrangheta figures have been arrested in recent years in Europe, Brazil and Lebanon.
The defendants had been accused of crimes including drug and weapons trafficking, extortion and mafia association, a term used in the Italian penal code for members of organized crime groups. Others were accused of having acted in complicity with the ‘ndrangheta without actually being members.
The charges are the result of an investigation into 12 clans linked to a convicted ‘ndrangheta leader. The central character, Luigi Mancuso, served 19 years in an Italian prison for leading what investigators believe was one of the most powerful crime families in the ‘ndrangheta, based in the town of Vibo Valentia.
Vincenzo Capomolla, Catanzaro’s deputy attorney general, said the prosecutors’ entire case supported the convictions and confirmed the ‘ndrangheta’s control over Vibo Valentia.
“The infiltration of the criminal organization in the province of Vibo Valentia was so deep and so widespread, so alarming, so worrying that I think we can see that no aspect of the life of the socio-economic fabric of the province was not observed. This was not conditioned by the intimidation force capacity of this dangerous criminal organization,” he said.
Giuseppe Di Renzo, the lawyer for several defendants, noted, however, that more than a third of the original defendants were fully acquitted, while others were found not guilty of some charges.
He criticized the large number and disparity of the defendants, saying they demonstrated there was no common thread in prosecutors’ case. But the former Catanzaro attorney general who launched the investigation, Nicola Gratteri, said mafia trials often have to cast a wide net due to the very nature of the operation of criminal syndicates, which infiltrate large swaths of the society.
The trial took place in a specially constructed high-security bunker. Part of an industrial park in Lamezia Terme, the bunker is so large that video screens have been anchored to the ceiling so participants can follow the proceedings.
Based almost entirely on blood ties, the ‘ndrangheta has been substantially immune to defectors for decades, but the ranks of those who have turned to the state’s evidence are growing in number. In the current trial, among them was a relative of Mancuso.
Several dozen informants in the case came from the ‘ndrangheta, while others formerly belonged to Sicily’s Cosa Nostra.
Despite the large number of defendants, the trial is not Italy’s largest involving suspected gangsters.
In 1986, 475 suspected members of the Sicilian Mafia were tried in a similarly constructed bunker in Palermo. The proceedings resulted in more than 300 convictions and 19 life sentences. The trial exposed many of the brutal methods and murderous strategies of the island’s top mafia bosses, including the sensational murders that bloodied the Palermo region during years of power struggles.
In contrast, the trial involving the ‘ndrangheta aimed to obtain convictions and sentences based on alleged acts of collusion between mafiosi and local politicians, civil servants, businessmen and members of secret lodges, in order to show how deeply rooted the union is in Calabria.
Flooded by revenues from cocaine trafficking, the ‘ndrangheta has swallowed up hotels, restaurants, pharmacies, car dealerships and other businesses across Italy, particularly in Rome and the country’s wealthy north. revealed criminal investigations.
The buying frenzy spread across Europe as the syndicate sought to launder illicit proceeds but also earn “clean” money by running legitimate businesses, particularly in the tourism and hospitality sectors. hotel industry, investigators said.
Zampano reported from Rome.