In a landmark trial that unfolded in a high-security courtroom located in the southern Calabria region, Italy, 207 individuals were convicted and collectively sentenced to 2,100 years in prison. The charges against them were related to their involvement with the ‘Ndrangheta organized crime syndicate, which is known as one of the world’s most powerful and influential drug-trafficking groups. The verdict, which included the acquittal of 131 other defendants, took over an hour and 40 minutes to read aloud.
The ‘Ndrangheta has steadily risen in power both within Italy and abroad, notably as the Sicilian Mafia’s influence waned. It is now considered to have a near-monopoly on cocaine importation in Europe, as stated by anti-mafia prosecutors leading the investigation in southern Italy. The organization’s reach extends to North and South America, with active operations in Africa. Recent years have seen ‘Ndrangheta figures arrested not only in various European countries but also in Brazil and Lebanon.
The charges against the defendants encompassed a range of crimes, including drug and arms trafficking, extortion, and mafia association—a term within Italy’s penal code referring to individuals involved in organized crime groups. Some individuals faced charges related to complicity with the ‘Ndrangheta, even without being members themselves.
The case stemmed from an investigation into 12 clans linked to a convicted ‘Ndrangheta boss, Luigi Mancuso. Mancuso, who had served 19 years in an Italian prison, was considered a central figure in one of the ‘Ndrangheta’s most influential crime families, located in Vibo Valentia.
Vincenzo Capomolla, deputy chief prosecutor of Catanzaro, affirmed the strength of the prosecutors’ case with the convictions, emphasizing the ‘Ndrangheta’s pervasive influence in Vibo Valentia. He described the criminal organization’s infiltration as deeply rooted and extensive, affecting all aspects of the province’s social and economic fabric.
Giuseppe Di Renzo, a defense attorney representing several defendants, highlighted that over a third of the original defendants had been fully acquitted. He critiqued the large number of defendants, arguing that it reflected the lack of a cohesive thread in the prosecutors’ case. Nicola Gratteri, the former chief prosecutor who initiated the investigation in Catanzaro, countered this by stating that mafia trials often require broad indictments due to the nature of how these criminal syndicates operate and their extensive penetration of society.
The trial took place in a specially constructed high-security bunker in Lamezia Terme, featuring expansive facilities that accommodated video screens suspended from the ceiling for participants to follow the proceedings.
Traditionally held together by familial ties, the ‘Ndrangheta was previously resistant to informants. However, an increasing number of members are now cooperating with authorities, including a relative of Luigi Mancuso in the current trial. Some informants came from within the ‘Ndrangheta, while others had affiliations with Sicily’s Cosa Nostra.
Although this trial involved a significant number of defendants, it was not the largest of its kind in Italy. In 1986, a trial with 475 alleged members of the Sicilian Mafia took place in a similar bunker in Palermo, leading to over 300 convictions and 19 life sentences. That trial played a crucial role in exposing the brutal methods and violent strategies employed by the island’s top mob bosses during years of power struggles.
In contrast, the ‘Ndrangheta trial aimed to secure convictions and sentences based on alleged collusion among mobsters, local politicians, public officials, businessmen, and members of secret lodges. This approach aimed to demonstrate the deep-rooted presence of the syndicate in Calabria.
Fueled by revenue from cocaine trafficking, the ‘Ndrangheta has expanded its influence by acquiring various businesses throughout Italy, particularly in Rome and the affluent north. Investigations have revealed its involvement in sectors such as hotels, restaurants, pharmacies, and car dealerships. The criminal organization extended its buying spree across Europe, not only to launder illicit funds but also to engage in legitimate enterprises, including tourism and hospitality ventures.