Italy’s mafia ‘maxi-trial’ sentences hundreds to jail

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An Italian court has convicted more than 230 people — including a former lawmaker from the party of late prime minister Silvio Berlusconi — for involvement with ’Ndrangheta mafia, as the country’s largest organised crime trial in decades came to an end.

The so-called mafia maxi-trial held in a special high-security courtroom in the southern region of Calabria brought more than 330 people to court on charges of participating or assisting the mafia, including drug-trafficking, extortion, bribery and theft. About 100 of the defendants were acquitted.

The proceedings focused on the so-called Mancuso family, a clan of the Calabria-based ’Ndrangheta that has long eclipsed the Sicilian Cosa Nostra as Italy’s most notorious and powerful organised crime group.

The ’Ndrangheta, whose network Italian investigators say spans from west Africa to South America, controls most of Europe’s illegal cocaine trade and is estimated to have a global turnover of €50bn ($54.7bn). Trafficking is conducted especially out of the southern Italian port of Gioia Tauro, which authorities have called the “nerve centre” of the group’s drug trade.

The court on Monday sentenced two local ’Ndrangheta clan bosses, Saverio Razionale and Domenico Bonavota, to 30 years in prison, the highest penalties. Other mob leaders — with nicknames such as “The Wolf”, “Fatty” and “The Musician” — were sentenced from 17 to 28 years behind bars.

Giancarlo Pittelli — a lawyer and former MP for Forza Italia, the party founded by Berlusconi and which is part of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing ruling coalition — was sentenced to 11 years in prison for collusion and passing on information to the mafia.

A police lieutenant and a member of Italy’s powerful financial police were also convicted of wrongdoing though they received more lenient sentences than the prosecutors had sought.

The convicts can still appeal against the verdict and the sentencing in higher tribunals.

The Mancuso family are based out of the southern province of Vibo Valentia, near the tip of the Italian mainland and the centre of the ’Ndrangheta’s heartland. Most of those convicted on Monday had been arrested as part of a crackdown in December 2019, after nearly three years of investigation across various parts of Italy.

Prosecutors expressed satisfaction at the results, despite the acquittals and many of the sentences being shorter than they had sought.

“The pervasiveness of the criminal organisation in the province of Vibo Valentia was so entrenched, so alarming, so disturbing that there was no aspect of the life, of the economy and society . . . that was not affected by the force of intimidation of this [mafia],” said Vincenzo Capomolla, director of the prosecutor’s office that handled the case.

Despite its unprecedented size, the maxi-trial is likely to make only a small dent in the larger organisation, which has continued to operate. In May, authorities in several countries in Europe and Latin America arrested 150 people, and seized 23 tons of cocaine, after years of investigations into the ’Ndrangheta’s international operations.

In its latest report — released in September, Italy’s anti-mafia directorate described the ’Ndrangheta as “a real criminal holding company of very significant international importance”.

Additional reporting by Giuliana Ricozzi in Rome

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