Over 200 gang members sentenced to total of 2,100 years in jail after huge Italian mafia trial

Officials listen as judges read the verdicts  (AP)
Officials listen as judges read the verdicts (AP)

More than 200 gang members have been convicted and sentenced to a total of 2,100 years behind bars after one of Italy's largest mafia trials.

A total of 338 people were accused of being part of Italy's 'Ndrangheta gang, with the trial ongoing since January 2021.

Some 67 defendants were already found guilty after opting for a speedy trial, and 131 people have been acquitted.

The organised crime syndicate is one of the world's most powerful and wealthy drug-trafficking groups.

It is the only mafia to be active in every continent, is said to control 80 per cent of Europe's cocaine trade, and makes an annual revenue of around £52 billion, Sky News reports.

The trial was aimed at securing convictions and sentences based on alleged acts of collusion among mobsters and local politicians, public officials and businessmen to show how deeply rooted the syndicate is in Calabria.

The accused faced drug and arms trafficking charges, as well as charges of extortion and mafia association - a term in Italy for members of organised crime groups.

Others were charged with being complicit with the 'Ndrangheta without actually being a member.

"The relevance (of this trial) is enormous," Italian lawmaker and former anti-mafia chief prosecutor Federico Cafiero De Raho told The Associated Press.

"First of all, because every trial against the 'ndrangheta gives a very significant message to the territory, which is not only the Calabrian one, but the national territory.

"But it has repercussions also at a European and world level, because the 'ndrangheta is one of the strongest organisations in the world, able to manage the international traffic of narcotics, as well as many other activities," he added.

Judge Brigida Cavasino, flanked by judges Claudia Caputo, left, and Germana Radice, reads the verdicts (AP)
Judge Brigida Cavasino, flanked by judges Claudia Caputo, left, and Germana Radice, reads the verdicts (AP)

Among those convicted was Ex-Forza Italia MP Giancarlo Pittelli, one of the most high-profile defendants, who received 11 years for being a mafia go-between.

The bosses of two 'Ndrangheta clans, Saverio Razionale and Domenico Bonavota, both got 30 years, Italy's ANSA news agency reports.

The trial started almost three years ago in the southern Calabria region, where the mob organisation was originally based.

The 'ndrangheta quietly amassed power in Italy and abroad as the Sicilian Mafia lost influence.The syndicate now holds almost a monopoly on cocaine importation in Europe, according to anti-mafia prosecutors who led the investigation in southern Italy.

The organisation also has bases in North and South America and is active in Africa, Italian prosecutors maintain, and 'ndrangheta figures have been arrested in recent years around Europe and in Brazil and Lebanon.

The trial took place in a specially constructed high-security bunker.

Vincenzo Capomolla, deputy chief prosecutor of Catanzaro said: "The infiltration of the criminal organisation in the province of Vibo Valentia was so deep-rooted and so widespread, so alarming, so disturbing that I think it can be noted that there was no aspect of the life of the social economic fabric of the province that was not conditioned by the capacity of the force of intimidation of this so dangerous criminal organisation."But Giuseppe Di Renzo, defence lawyer for several of the defendants, said that more than a third of the original defendants were fully acquitted, while others were found not guilty of some charges.

The charges grew out of an investigation of 12 clans linked to a convicted 'ndrangheta boss.

The central figure, Luigi Mancuso, served 19 years in Italian prison for his role in leading what investigators allege is one of the 'ndrangheta's most powerful crime families, based in the town of Vibo Valentia.

Several dozen informants in the case came from the 'ndrangheta, while others formerly belonged to Sicily's Cosa Nostra.

Using cocaine trafficking revenues, the 'ndrangheta bought hotels, restaurants, pharmacies, car dealerships and other businesses throughout Italy, especially in Rome and the country's affluent north, criminal investigations revealed.

The buying spree spread across Europe as the syndicate sought to launder illicit revenues but also to make "clean" money by running legitimate businesses, including in the tourism and hospitality sectors, investigators alleged.

"Arrests allow their activities to be halted for a time, but the investigations determine the need for further investigations each time," Mr Cafiero De Raho said.

Despite the large number of defendants, the trial wasn't Italy's biggest one involving alleged mobsters.

In 1986, 475 alleged members of the Sicilian Mafia went on trial in a similarly constructed bunker in Palermo. The proceedings resulted in more than 300 convictions and 19 life sentences.

That trial helped reveal many of the brutal methods and murderous strategies of the island's top mob bosses.