More than 200 members of Italy’s notorious ‘Ndrangheta Mafia have been sentenced to a total of 2,200 years in prison at the culmination of the country’s biggest trial for more than 30 years.
It took a panel of three female judges nearly two hours to read out the sentences passed on 338 defendants who had been on trial. They faced a range of charges from murder and extortion to drug trafficking and money laundering.
The long-running trial offered unparalleled insight into the workings of the ‘Ndrangheta, one of the world’s foremost criminal organisations, whose name translates as “society of men of honour”.
The judges were told how Mafiosi would intimidate rivals or victims of extortion by dumping on their doorstep goat heads, dead puppies and, on one occasion, a dead dolphin.
The court heard how ambulances were used to transport drugs, council water supplies were diverted to irrigate fields of marijuana and weapons were hidden in cemeteries.
Defendants sported a colourful assortment of nicknames, from The Wolf and The Musician to Fatty, Shorty, Sweety, Mimmo the Baron and Giuseppe the Stick.
Among those found guilty was a former lieutenant colonel in Italy’s paramilitary police force, the Carabinieri, and a former senator from Forza Italia, the centre-Right party that was founded by the late Silvio Berlusconi. Politician Giancarlo Pittelli was sentenced to 11 years behind bars.
Regional politicians and businessmen were also convicted, showing the deep level of collusion between the Calabrian Mafia and white-collar elements of the economy and the state.
The convicted also included Pasquale Bonavota, who was on the list of Italy’s most dangerous fugitives and who received a jail sentence of 28 years. Other ‘Ndrangheta bosses were sentenced to up to 30 years.
The trial was so big that a special courthouse had to be constructed inside a former call centre in Lamezia Terme, a town in Calabria, the southern region that has been the ‘Ndrangheta’s stronghold for more than a century. It was large enough to accommodate not just the defendants but hundreds of prosecutors, defence lawyers, court officials and journalists.
The trial stemmed from raids conducted by elite police units in December 2019 in which around 300 suspects were arrested in Italy and abroad. The investigation was spearheaded by Italy’s best-known prosecutor, Nicola Gratteri, who has lived under police protection for three decades.
The ‘Ndrangheta has spread far beyond its Calabrian roots and now has interests across the world, from Canada and South America to Australia.
It is believed to have an annual income of around $60 billion (£48 billion), much of which is made from the cocaine trade. It is said to control around 80 per cent of Europe’s cocaine trafficking and is considered to have eclipsed Italy’s two other principal Mafias – the Cosa Nostra in Sicily and the Camorra of Naples.
Experts say the ‘Ndrangheta’s stranglehold on Calabria is explained in part by the chronic lack of economic development and neglect of the region, which forms the toe of the Italian boot. The rate of unemployment among young people is 27 per cent, the highest of Italy’s 20 regions and worse than other deprived areas such as Campania, Sicily and Puglia.