Italian prosecutor set for ‘historic’ anti-mafia court battle
15 Sep 2020

After years of investigation, mountains of evidence and hundreds of suspects, Italy’s plucky anti-mafia prosecutor Nicola Gratteri is gearing up for a “historic” court battle against the country’s powerful ‘Ndrangheta clan.

The first salvos in a court battle were fired Friday as a preliminary hearing against ‘Ndrangheta members opened in the Italian capital, in a case not seen since the days of the “Maxiprocesso” trial against the Sicilian Cosa Nostra in the mid-1980s.

Gratteri, 62, who has spent three decades under close police protection, is hoping to send more than 450 suspected clan members to jail for belonging to a criminal gang that allegedly built its fortunes and sinister reputation on extortion, money laundering, kidnapping, drug trafficking and so-called vendettas.

“It’s a war,” Gratteri told AFP shortly after the preliminary hearing concluded in Rome in the case against Italy’s only mafia group with tentacles on every continent.

“We are talking about violence, about death,” added the prosecutor, based in the southern Italian town and ‘Ndrangheta stronghold of Catanzaro, where he lives with constant death threats.

Describing the case as “historic”, Gratteri believed it to be the most important in Italy’s battle against mobsters since the “Maxi” trial, which eventually saw hundreds of Cosa Nostra members convicted.

Those hearings however were marred by violence including a mafia hit on its best-known judge and prosecuting magistrate Giovanni Falcone, murdered with his wife and three police officers in 1992.

When formalities conclude in Rome and a fortified courthouse in built in Calabria, the hearings are due to move to Italy’s southern region where no less than 600 lawyers and 200 civil parties will be present.

Tonnes of cocaine

Hundreds of ‘Ndrangheta crime bosses, underbosses and “soldiers” were arrested in December in one of the biggest police raids against the crime syndicate in years.

The swoop extended as far as Germany, Bulgaria and Switzerland and netted a former MP and the head of the Calabrian mayors’ association among others.

Charges range from usury to murder, often aggravated by Italy’s Article 416-bis criminal code against taking part in mafia-type associations.

For many years perceived to be the poorer cousin to better-known mob groups such as the Cosa Nostra and Napoli’s Camorra, the ‘Ndrangheta has since surpassed them to become Italy’s most powerful crime organisation.

With its name stemming from unknown origins, but said to have been derived from Greek meaning to exalt virility and courage, the ‘Ndrangheta today is a modern and feared crime gang.

It controls part of the international cocaine trafficking network with footholds in New York, Colombia and Brazil, has infiltrated the construction industry, runs European-based funds and even funeral contracts, now boosted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

By Gaël Branchereau, Agence France-Presse via Barron’s, 12 September 2020

Read more at Barron’s

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