Italy’s landmark mafia trial goes to prison

A trial hearing involving the alleged ringleaders of a mafia gang whose criminal tentacles reached into almost every department of Rome's City Hall took place in a prison on the outskirts of Rome on Tuesday.

Italy's landmark mafia trial goes to prison
The 'mafia capitale' trial is behind heard at Rebibbia prison, on the outskirts of Rome. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Massimo Carminati, a convicted gangster with a history of involvement with violent far-right groups, and 45 others are accused of operating a mafia-style network that used extortion, fraud and theft to divert millions of euros destined for public services into their own pockets.

Their trial began in court earlier this month but for Tuesday's second hearing the proceedings were moved to the Rebibbia prison outside the capital, where the case is expected to run until next summer.

Under presiding judge Rossanna Ianniello, the hearing was held in an immense hanger next to the prison block with 60 lawyers, dozens of journalists and supporters of the accused present.

There, behind bars, were most of the defendants in the most significant anti-corruption operation in Italy since the “clean hands” campaign of the early 1990s led to half the country's lawmakers being indicted for taking bribes.

Four more suspects, including 57-year-old Carminati, followed the proceedings from their cells via video-conference.

Carminati is imprisoned in the northern city of Parma. He is suspected to be the head of the vast network of corruption.

The day was dedicated to legal niceties.

According to Ippolita Naso, one of Carminati's lawyers, the questioning of the defendants, who are all being detained in prison or under house arrest, won't begin for months yet.

Much of the trial is expected to be taken up with arguments over whether the accused individuals can be said to have constituted a mafia-type organization as defined by legislation designed to combat more traditional crime syndicates, such as Sicily's Cosa Nostra, the Neapolitan Camorra and Calabria's 'Ndrangheta.

'Mafia Capitale'

If the prosecution can prove that they did, Carminati and the others will face much tougher sentences than they would if found guilty simply of corruption.

Carminati was given a 10-year prison term in 1998 for membership of the Banda della Magliana, a criminal crew which ruled Rome's underworld in the 1970s and 1980s and, prosecutors say, has reinvented itself in the form of Mafia Capitale.

Carminati is also a former member of the Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari (Armed Revolutionary Nuclei), a far-right group that was involved in the 1980 bombing of Bologna railway station which left 85 people dead. He lost his left eye in a 1981 shoot-out with police.

According to the prosecution, his right-hand man was fellow defendant Salvatore Buzzi who was convicted in 1983 of murdering an accomplice in a cheque-stealing scam.

Among the others on trial are local politicians, businessmen and officials.

All are implicated in rigging tenders and other corrupt schemes designed to siphon off cash destined for everything from garbage recycling to the reception of newly-arrived refugees.

Hundreds more, including former Rome mayor Gianni Alemanno, have been investigated in a case dubbed “Mafia Capitale” by prosecutors.

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Italian police seize €250 million and arrest 56 in latest mafia blitz

In its latest mafia sting, Italian police took down a large 'Ndrangheta ring in southern Calabria, placing 56 people under investigation including a regional councillor and a former head of the regional tourism board.

Italian police seize €250 million and arrest 56 in latest mafia blitz

The early-morning blitz by over 300 police focused on areas of Calabria – Italy’s poorest region – under the control of the Mancuso clan, a powerful branch of the infamous ‘Ndrangheta, many of whose top operatives are among hundreds of defendants in an ongoing ‘maxi-trial’.

Fifty-six people, many already in prison, were put under criminal investigation for a series of crimes including mafia-related conspiracy, extortion, kidnapping, bribery and possession of weapons, police and prosecutors said.

READ ALSO: ‘Ndrangheta: It’s time to bust some myths about the Calabrian mafia

Besides alleged mafia members, the operation also snared businessmen, a regional councillor released from prison days earlier, a former head of the regional tourism board and two civil servants, police said.

The incarcerated boss of the clan, Luigi Mancuso, also known as “The Supreme”, is the biggest mafioso in the massive mafia trial that started in January 2021.

Still, police said, his clan and affiliates, including the La Rosa and Accortini families, have continued to dominate illegal activities in the Vibo Valentia province, which is located right on the toe of Italy’s boot and is widely known as the ‘Coast of the Gods’ due to its stunning coastal views.

One mafia scheme involved the infiltration of a foreign tour operator in Pizzo Calabro, overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.

No one talks

In Calabria, the extent of the ‘Ndrangheta’s reach in the local economy has made it near impossible to eradicate it.

By controlling the bulk of cocaine flowing into Europe, the ‘Ndrangheta has surpassed Sicily’s Cosa Nostra in power and wealth. It has extended far beyond its rural roots and now operates internationally, with illegal gains reinvested in the legitimate economy.

In the area around Vibo Valentia, extortion of local businesses and the fixing of public tenders is also common.

The allegations against those arrested Thursday include the transport and sale of stolen farm machinery to Malta and Romania, police said.

The sting carried out on Thursday extended to other parts of Calabria, Palermo in Sicily and as far as Rome and Milan, police said.

READ ALSO: Meet Nicola Gratteri, the prosecutor leading Italy’s battle against the mafia

In a press conference, anti-mafia prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, whose efforts to defeat the ‘Ndrangheta have forced him to live under police escort for over 30 years, called the group a “fierce mafia syndicate” controlling areas around the tourist resort of Tropea.

Francesco Messina, who leads Italy’s organised crime investigative unit (DAC), cited the economic power of the clan, which relies locally on “substantial” extortion activity.

The “total absence” of complaints to authorities was striking, Messina said, underscoring the ‘Ndrangheta’s power to intimidate.

By Alexandria Sage