Inside violent world of mafia kingpin ‘The Uncle’ as hundreds face trial
A maxi-trial is opening in southern Italy this week against the 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate, arguably the world's richest criminal organisation that quietly amassed power as the Sicilian Mafia lost its influence.
The 'Ndrangheta is based in the southern region of Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot, and has surpassed Sicily’s more famous Cosa Nostra to become the most powerful mafia group in the country – and one of the largest criminal gangs in the world.
Police arrested more than 300 people alleged to have links with the notorious gang in December last year, with the force saying they seized hundreds of suspects in early morning swoops around the country, with some arrests also carried out in Germany, Switzerland and Bulgaria.
Amongst the possible charges facing those detained were mafia conspiracy, murder, extortion, loan sharking, corporate fraud and money laundering.
"Politicians were involved, as well as lawyers, accountants, public officials, court clerks," prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, who led the investigation, said at the time of the arrests.
"All people who had jobs and did not need to put themselves at the service of the 'Ndrangheta,"
The highest-profile defendant is the alleged clan boss Luigi Mancuso, 66, also known as "The Uncle". Other defendants are said to go by nicknames such as "The Wolf", "Fatty" and "Blondie".
Luigi has already spent time behind bars and was released from prison after 19 years on July 21, 2012, after being convicted in the Tirreno and Countdown trials for drugs and mafia association.
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A few days after his release, a provision by the court of Vibo Valentia ordered special surveillance on Mancuso, who was also told not to leave Italy and given a curfew banning him from leaving home at night.
It has previously been reported by The Mirror that the gang imports 80% of Europe’s cocaine from Mexico and Colombia through the container port of Gioia Tauro and its crime business is said to pull in a staggering £40billion a year.
In 2012 an Italian prosecutor warned: "The ’Ndrangheta runs the international cocaine market. I urge you not to underestimate the organisation or it will be too late."
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Although it was only recently categorised as a mafia in Italian law in 2010, the 'Ndrangheta first entered the public consciousness during the 1980s and 90s, when the ’Ndrangheta carried out a series of kidnappings across Italy, in what was one of the bloodiest chapters of Calabrian history.
The gang is probably best-known for the kidnap of 16-year-old John Paul Getty, grandson of the world’s richest man, in Rome in 1973.
Getty first refused to pay any ransom for the boy, but later agreed to give the gang £1.7million after they cut off one of the lad’s ears.
Recently, it has been reported that alleged gang members are said to have fed a woman to pigs after she refused to give up her land to a neighbour with ties to the mafia clan.
Maria Chindamo, a 42-year-old businesswoman, from Italy's Calabria region, became the latest in a long line of people from the region to disappear without a trace when she vanished on May 6, 2016, from outside her farm in the Limbadi municipality, near Calabria's western coast.
Top anti-mafia magistrate Roberto di Palma probably put it best when he warned: "The ’Ndrangheta is like an octopus and wherever there’s money, you’ll find its tentacles."
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