Dead dolphins, extortion and bullets in Italian mafia “maxi-trial”

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Lamezia Terme (Italy) (AFP) – A dead dolphin on a doormat and windows smashed with sledgehammers. Weapons stored in the chapels of cemeteries. Bribes to judges for acquittals and fake medical certificates allowing convicted killers to escape prison.

These are the stories told since January by dozens of ‘Ndrangheta members who have become state witnesses in Italy’s biggest anti-Mafia trial in three decades, covering everything from bullying to vote-buying, drug trafficking to murder.

“They waited for them in Piazza Morelli, invited them to eat ricotta on the farm … then they killed, burned and melted them,” said criminal-turned-witness, Andrea Mantella, describing a murder for revenge in 1988 from two brothers. .

The ‘Ndrangheta, Italy’s most powerful organized crime syndicate, is in the sights of the “maxi-trial” against 355 defendants held in the poor region of southern Calabria, the group’s home territory.

Spanning far beyond its rural roots, ‘Ndrangheta now dominates the cocaine trade in Europe and has infiltrated many areas of the legal economy throughout Italy, and even into the foreigner.

He is helped by close contacts with politicians and businessmen, and his stranglehold on the local population in Calabria.

The testimony that ended this month from an unprecedented number of 58 Mafia informants – linked to the court by video link – exposed both the brutality of the ‘Ndrangheta, but also the insidious influence of the’ Ndrangheta. group at all levels of society.

The trial centers on a province of Calabria, Vibo Valentia, whose family clans are dominated by Luigi “The Supreme” Mancuso, 67, himself on trial after serving a 19-year sentence for drug and drug crimes. the Mafia until 2012.

“Without Luigi Mancuso’s consent, you cannot open any business,” his nephew, Emanuele Mancuso, testified in March.

– Remuneration and officials –

With nicknames like “Lamb Thigh,” “Sweetie,” “Wolf” and “The Wringer,” the defendants – many of whom are related – are alleged bosses and agents, along with their white-collar facilitators.

They are accused of procuring weapons, collecting votes or delivering messages. Others are said to have collected and distributed money to prisoners, acted as accountants or managed mafia relations in other areas. Still others have identified extortion targets and planned ambushes.

Testimony that ended this month with an unprecedented number of 58 mafia informants – connected to court by video link Gianluca CHINEA AFP / File

The extent of ‘Ndrangheta’s reach in the local economy made its eradication almost impossible.

The court heard of ambulances carrying drugs, water supplies diverted to marijuana crops and drowned migrants buried without coffins after rigged public tenders.

Informant Mantella, a senior member who confessed to numerous murders, said 70,000 euros ($ 79,000) had been paid to release him from prison at a medical clinic where “I did what I wanted. », Underlining the financial weight of the ‘Ndrangheta.

Mantella and another state witness also said the ‘Ndrangheta paid € 50,000 to former senator and lawyer Giancarlo Pittelli, who protests his innocence, to rig the trial.

The defendants also include police officers, court officials, mayors and other officials – some have reportedly encountered the Mafia in illegal Masonic lodges.

Calabrian journalist Consolato Minniti told AFP that the maxi-trial is the first to go “beyond the” military “side of” Ndrangheta “.

“Until today, judges have generally targeted those who shoot,” he said.

Cozy ties are nothing new. Over the past 30 years, 110 city councils in Calabria have been dissolved following mafia infiltrations – on three occasions, including in Lamezia Terme where the trial is taking place.

The Mancuso family’s hometown of Limbadi was the first. Its administration was dissolved by the Italian president in 1983 after a fugitive boss, Francesco “Ciccio” Mancuso, was elected mayor in absentia.

– Molotov cocktails –

The allegations contained in the 351-page indictment show how the ‘Ndrangheta will stop at nothing to pursue its objectives.

Various tactics are used to coerce protection money, force homeowners to sell below market value, trick businesses into turning to mafia vendors, or seek loans with exorbitant interest, sometimes over 200%.

Dead puppies, dolphins and goat heads were thrown on the doorstep of resistance fighters, threatening phone calls made, beatings, cars set on fire, Molotov cocktails thrown and gunshots.


The defendants also include police officers, court officials, mayors and other officials - some have reportedly encountered the Mafia in illegal Masonic lodges
The defendants also include police officers, court officials, mayors and other officials – some have reportedly encountered the Mafia in illegal Masonic lodges Gianluca CHINEA AFP / File

The suspects of five murders, including a member of the ‘Ndrangheta killed in 2002 because of his homosexuality, are on the dock in the maxi-trial.

The homosexual victim was buried and then covered with a tarmac, informant Mantella said.

There were 1,320 Mafia-related murders in Calabria from 1983 to 2018, officials said.

In a May 2017 episode that was wiretapped and included in the indictment, a member of ‘Ndrangheta called the brother of a woman who lost $ 7,000 worth of marijuana after a police seizure.

“Let’s try to get that money back or (you’ll find) your sister in a cement pillar,” the caller said.

“Because these people are not joking. “

The trial continues.


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