UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Ndrangheta - Calabrian Mafia

Italian Organized Crime Carefully coordinated police raids in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium on 06 December 2018 netted 84 suspected members of the 'ndrangheta. The two-year long "Operation Pollino" is a cross-border investigation into the 'ndrangheta criminal group which is accused of cocaine trafficking, money laundering, bribery and violence, according to Eurojust, the EU prosecution agency tackling cross-border crime. The suspected mobsters were arrested in Italy, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands on Wednesday. Police seized 4,000 kilograms (8,820 pounds) of cocaine and 140 kilograms of ecstasy pills together with about €2 million ($2.3 million) in notes.

Calling the practices of Italian 'Ndrangheta crime group the “adoration of evil,” Pope Francis said 22 June 2014 the Mafiosi “are excommunicated” from God and the Catholic Church, in his address to tens of thousands of people in Calabria, southern Italy. “Those who in their lives follow this path of evil, as Mafiosi do, are not in communion with God. They are excommunicated,” Pope Francis saids. “This evil must be fought against, it must be pushed aside. We must say no to it,” Francis said, promising that the Vatican would apply all efforts to combat such activity. Francis condemned 'Ndrangheta as the “adoration of evil and contempt of the common good.... Repent! There is no time to avoid ending up in hell, which is what awaits you if you do not change course,” the Pope stated after holding a vigil as he visited Castrovillari prison in Calabria, a region infested by organized crime.

This attack on one of Italy’s most dangerous crime syndicates is Pope Francis' latest effort in his crusade to fight corruption. The roots of Italian organized crime date back to the 1500s. Presently, there are five main known mafia-style organizations in Italy – the Cosa Nostra of Sicily, 'Ndrangheta of Calabria, Camorra of Naples, as well as relatively new Stidda and Sacra Corona Unita of Puglia.

If it were not part of Italy, Calabria would be a failed state. The 'Ndrangheta organized crime syndicate controls vast portions of its territory and economy, and accounts for at least three percent of Italy's GDP (probably much more) through drug trafficking, extortion and usury. “The 'Ndrangheta,” Enzo Macri from National Antimafia Directorate said, represents the “globalisation” of Italian organised crime. “The Colombians prefer to deal with the Calabrians,” says Macri. “They are much more reliable. They don't talk. And they pay on time.”

The ’Ndrangheta is the Calabrian Mafia (based in Calabria). The word “’Ndrangheta” comes from the Greek meaning courage or loyalty. The 'Ndrangheta has a tight clan structure which has made it famously difficult to penetrate. With its network of hundreds of family gangs based around the southern region of Calabria, it is even more feared and secretive than the Sicilian Mafia. Its roots go back to a criminal association specialised in gambling, the Garduna, which was created in the Spanish city of Toledo in 1412. It spread to Calabria, one of Italy's poorest regions, and started building up as a crime network based on kidnapping for ransom.

The ’Ndrangheta formed in the 1860s when a group of Sicilians was banished from the island by the Italian government. They settled in Calabria and formed small criminal groups. There are about 160 ’Ndrangheta cells with roughly 6,000 members. They specialize in kidnapping and political corruption, but also engage in drug trafficking, murder, bombings, counterfeiting, gambling, frauds, thefts, labor racketeering, loansharking, and alien smuggling. Cells are loosely connected family groups based on blood relationships and marriages. In the US, there are an estimated 100-200 members and associates, primarily in New York and Florida.

'Ndrangheta is far more sophisticated and international than most people believe, maintaining bank accounts in Monte Carlo and Milan, and transplanting operatives to Colombia, Spain, Germany, the Balkans, Canada and Australia. The Italian Parliament's Anti-Mafia Committee characterized the 'Ndrangheta as having an international structure similar to that of Al-Qaeda. 'Ndrangheta has come a long way since its founding by villagers; in the last thirty years the group has established ties with Colombia's FARC and suppliers of heroin and hashish in Central Asia, providing them with arms and cash, and has extended its reach throughout Western Europe.

The war on the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria has been difficult. With members recruited on the basis of family ties, the 'Ndrangheta is virtually impervious to police infiltration. "Every cell is composed of people who belong to family, and this is why there are no justice collaborators," according to Nicola Gratteri, Calabria's senior anti-Mafia prosecutor, who adds that only 42 turncoats have come from the 'Ndrangheta, compared with 700 to 1,000 from the Cosa Nostra and 2,000 from the Camorra.

It was only after the killing of six people in Duisburg, Germany, in August 2007, as a result of a showdown between two families from San Luca, a village on the Ionian coast near Reggio Calabria, that the international media realised how significant the ‘Ndrangheta was. The ‘Ndrangheta had long been considered a marginal phenomenon compared to the Sicilian Cosa Nostra or the Neapolitan Camorra, but it has now emerged as the most powerful criminal organisation in the world, one whose revenues from illegal activities, local and international, range from €35 to €40 billion a year (£29-34 billion).

With a turnover of €53 billion ($80 billion) in 2013, the 'Ndrangheta mafia from southern Italy made more money in 2013 than Deutsche Bank and McDonald's put together, a March 2014 study said. The study by the Demoskopika research institute detailed the international crime syndicate's sources of revenue, including drug trafficking - which brought in an estimated €24.2 billion - and the illegal garbage disposal business, which earned it €19.6 billion.

Locally the ‘Ndrangheta has created a parallel economic system based on unfair competition, control of public contracts and collusion with the public administration and the political class. Internationally, the ‘Ndrangheta has been able to maintain strong ties with South American narcos organisations, especially in the importation of cocaine. Although drug trafficking remains a major business for the ‘Ndrangheta, Parini points out a recent trend in illegal activities which has been under-reported: the disposal of dangerous industrial waste. In a competitive global economy, he warns, there are more and more companies willing to compromise with criminal organisations to cut the costs of waste disposal.

The southern Italian mafia earned the equivalent of 3.5 per cent of Italy's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013, said the report based on analysis of documents from Italy's interior ministry and police, parliament's anti-mafia commission and the national anti-mafia taskforce. The 'Ndrangheta is thought to have some 400 key "operatives" in 30 countries, but its activities are believed to involve as many as 60,000 people worldwide, the report said. Extortion and usury last year brought in a substantial €2.9 billion, while embezzlement earned the mafia €2.4 billion and gambling €1.3 billion. Arms sales, prostitution, counterfeiting goods and people-smuggling were less lucrative, bringing in less than a billion euros together.

According to 'Ndrangheta expert Parini, it is organized crime that decides who holds elected office in southern Calabria, creating a web of dependencies to ensure election victories for inept politicians that are guaranteed to produce policies favorable to organized crime. Anti-Mafia prosecutor Nicola Gratteri states that in some parts of the region, the 'Ndrangheta controls up to 20 percent of the votes. It is clear from meetings with elected officials in Calabria that they are a step down in quality from those in other parts of Southern Italy; some are so devoid of energy and charisma that it is hard to imagine them mounting -- let alone surviving -- a real electoral campaign.

Italy's largest mafia trial in more than 30 years kicked off on 13 Janaruy 2021 with prosecutors hoping to strike a blow to the 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate, whose tentacles reach worldwide. More than 350 alleged members of the mafia and the politicians, lawyers, businessmen and others accused of enabling them face a judge in a huge, specially converted courtroom in the southern Calabrian town of Lamezia Terme, in the heart of 'Ndrangheta territory.

Prosecutors are seeking to prove a web of crimes dating back to the 1990s, both bloody and white-collar, including murder, drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering and abuse of office. The trial "is a cornerstone in the building of a wall against the mafias in Italy", anti-mob prosecutor Nicola Gratteri told AFP. The current trial, expected to last at least a year and likely longer, features 355 defendants, more than 900 prosecution witnesses, and an unprecedented number of collaborators, given the close family ties within the 'Ndrangheta that discourage turncoats.

In Italy, so-called "maxi-trials," which include scores of defendants and countless charges, are seen as the best judicial resource against the country's various organised crime groups, of which the 'Ndrangheta is now considered the most powerful, controlling the bulk of cocaine flowing into Europe. The most famous "maxi-trial" of 1986-7 dealt a major blow to Sicily's Cosa Nostra, resulting in 338 guilty verdicts, but prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were later assassinated by the mob.

The 'Ndrangheta has expanded well beyond its traditional domains of drug trafficking and loan sharking, now using shell companies and frontmen to reinvest illegal gains in the legitimate economy. In many parts of Calabria, it has infiltrated practically all areas of public life, from city hall and hospitals, to cemeteries and even the courts. Authorities believe there are some 150 'Ndrangheta families in Calabria and at least 6,000 members and affiliates in the region. That swells to thousands more when including those worldwide, although estimates are unreliable.

The organised crime group generates more than 50 billion euros ($60 billion) per year, according to Gratteri, who called it the world's richest such organisation. The prosecutor explained the 'Ndrangheta as a network of families, each of which wield power over subordinates. "I have to start with the idea that there's an organisation, as in a business, as in a large multinational, with a boss and then down, like a pyramid, to all the other members," Gratteri told AFP, explaining the need for the "maxi-trial".

The current trial focuses on one family, the Mancuso group, and its network of associates who control the Vibo Valentia area of Calabria. The town of Lamezia Terme, where the trial will take place, was cited in a 2008 parliamentary organised crime report as a public safety emergency zone where the region's "greatest increase in serious bloodshed has been recorded". Defendants include a high number of non-clan members, including an ex-parliamentarian, a high-ranking police official, mayors and other public servants and businessmen.

"The impressive thing is ... the power the Mancuso gang has shown in rubbing shoulders with state apparatuses, which were literally at their disposal," Gratteri said following a wave of arrests in December 2019 throughout Italy and Europe that led to the trial. Criminologist Federico Varese of Oxford University said the trial reflects the wide-reaching control of the 'Ndrangheta, who are embedded in the community and involved in every legal and illicit activity. "The real strength of these mafia families is they have control of the territory and within the territory they do everything," said Varese. "If you want to open a shop, if you want to build anything, you have to go through them.... They are the authority."

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 14-01-2021 19:24:13 ZULU