Prosecutors in the southern region of Calabria opened a trial of 325 defendants linked to the ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate accused of murder, corruption, drug trafficking and other crimes.

Credit…Gianluca Chininea/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Italy opened a huge trial on Wednesday of 325 defendants linked to the powerful ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate on charges ranging from murder and drug trafficking to corruption and money laundering, in the southern region of Calabria.

The trial, conducted in a courtroom converted from a call center in the town of Lamezia Terme, with video links to defendants being held in facilities up and down the country as a coronavirus prevention measure, is the most sweeping legal action against the mafia in Italy in three decades.

On trial are alleged leaders and foot soldiers of the ‘Ndrangheta, as well as national and local politicians, civil servants and white-collar professionals believed to be working with the Calabrian criminal organization.

It is the most far-reaching action against a criminal organization in Italy since the trials of the Sicilian mafia in the 1980s that led to its decline. That effort opened up space for the Calabrian mobsters to expand their small-time local activities and become the leading drug importers into Europe and one of the world’s richest criminal organizations, according to the Italian authorities.

“This is a cornerstone in the wall that we are building to counter the ‘Ndrangheta,” Nicola Gratteri, the chief prosecutor in the case and a longtime opponent of the Calabrian mafia, said in an interview with a regional broadcaster on Wednesday. “And to make more livable a region that has been martyrized for over a century.”

Mr. Gratteri’s investigation, which mobilized 3,000 police officers to arrest hundreds of people in Bulgaria, Italy, Germany and Switzerland in 2019, led to the capture of the top ranks of the Mancuso family that runs the ‘Ndrangheta from the Calabrian city of Vibo Valentia. That included Luigi Mancuso, who is believed to be the head of the clan.

The Mancusos infiltrated the local political administration and the economy, and also controlled the western coast of Calabria, the large port of Gioia Tauro, and politicians at the national level, investigators said. They also had ties with criminal organizations in South America and the United States, they said.

“They are one of the most powerful clans in Italy and in the world,” said Giuseppe De Pace, a lawyer for the family of Matteo Vinci, who was killed in a car bomb after refusing to sell his land to the Mancuso clan in 2018.

The Mancusos’ web of interests is rooted in real estate across the region, acquired with cash earned from drug trafficking and enforced with brutal violence.

“This humble Calabrian family simply inherited some land located between parcels belonging to the Mancuso family,” Mr. De Pace said, referring to the Vincis. “Their son paid for his sense of justice with his life.”

Last week, the police revealed that a Calabrian farmer who disappeared in 2016 and whose remains were never found, was murdered and most likely fed to pigs for refusing to sell land she owned to a clan close to the Mancusos in the southern tip of Calabria.

Mobsters also often killed their own affiliates, if they did not follow their rules. The police are searching for the remains of a 35-year-old member of the clan who was shot and buried in a field in 2002, with the help of his own cousin, who later repented and is now collaborating with prosecutors. The killing was motivated by a suspicion that the man was gay, police officials in Calabria said.

The charges against the 325 defendants include murder, extortion, usury, money laundering, drug trafficking, corruption and belonging to a criminal syndicate. Prosecutors hope to prove collusion among mobsters and public officials, politicians, businessmen and members of secret lodges, an inextricable web of interests and favors, in Calabria and elsewhere in Italy.

Mr. Gratteri, a Calabrian who has been living under police protection for three decades, entered the courtroom surrounded by bodyguards.

He said that he was even more cautious now with the trial underway. But he said holding the trial in Calabria, where residents have been “vexed and humiliated” by the mobsters for decades, was an important statement.

“It’s a sign that the state is capable of giving an answer,” he said, adding that the courtroom was built in a few months and allowed almost 1,000 people to attend the proceedings, sitting over a meter apart to comply with coronavirus social-distancing rules, with 150 screens connecting detainees sitting in prisons around the country.

Another 91 defendants will face a related trial later this month, and a third trial related to the investigating, involving five murders will begin in February.

The trial that opened Wednesday is expected to last months, if not years.

“The work is long,” Mr. Gratteri said, “But if we keep being serious, constant and systematic, people are not masochists. They need to talk, they need freedom.”

Originally posted on https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/13/world/europe/italy-mob-trial-Ndrangheta-Calabria.html