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CRIME

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

After years of investigation and with hundreds of suspects, Italy's plucky anti-mafia prosecutor Nicola Gratteri on Wednesday begins a major court battle against the country's powerful 'Ndrangheta clan.

Meet Nicola Gratteri, the prosecutor leading Italy's battle against the mafia
talian anti-mafia prosecutor Nicola Gratteri pictured during a television interview on January 11th. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
For Nicola Gratteri, the lead prosecutor in Italy's largest anti-mafia trial in more than 30 years, the fight against the mob has always been a personal issue.
 
“I have known the mafia since I was a child because I was hitchhiking to school and I often saw dead bodies on the road,” he told AFP ahead of the opening Wednesday of the landmark “maxi-trial”.
 
 
“I thought: when I grow up, I want to do something so that this won't happen again.”
 
More than 350 people are going on trial in Calabria, the heart of the feared 'Ndrangheta organised crime group, accused of everything from murder to drug trafficking, money laundering and mafia association.
 
Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
 
A call centre in the town of Lamezia Terme in Calabria, Italy's poorest region, was specially converted to host the proceedings, which Gratteri expects to last one year but which many believe will stretch on for far longer.
 
The prosecutor grew up in Calabria, from where the 'Ndrangheta has extended its reach across all parts of the world, surpassing Sicily's Cosa Nostra as
Italy's most fearsome crime syndicate.
 
“I know the 'Ndrangheta well from inside, because when I was a child I was at school with the children of mafia bosses,” Gratteri said.
 
“The kids I played with then became mobsters and then became drug traffickers. So, that's why I'm familiar with the criminal philosophy, the way of thinking of the 'Ndrangheta members, and this helps in my work,” he added.
 
 
Decades under police protection
 
Gratteri said he felt “very confident” that his case would stand up in court, in what promises to be a long and complicated trial, with more than 900 witnesses just for the prosecution.
 
It focuses on the Mancuso, a clan based in the Vibo Valentia province, as well as on the politicians, lawyers, businessmen and others accused of enabling them.
 
Gratteri, 62, has spent three decades under close police protection, and is one of Italy's most high-profile anti-mafia figures.
 
He is often compared with Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, the star prosecutors who worked on Italy's first mass trial against the mafia in the
1980s.
 
That trial, leading to hundreds of convictions, dealt a major blow to Sicily's Cosa Nostra, but cost Falcone and Borsellino their lives as mobsters
killed them both in retribution.
 
Gratteri said his anti-mafia efforts were being supported by the gradual breakdown of “omerta”, the mafia code of silence, among ordinary people.
 
“Over the last years we have gained a lot of credibility, a lot of trust. People have started to cooperate, the people are standing by us, are starting
to believe in us,” he said.
 
Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
 
The 'Ndrangheta is the most powerful of Italy's mafia groups, and is itself comprised of numerous clans.

Through the years it has diversified, modernised and spread across Italy and the continent.

Italy's law enforcement still faces a struggle with mafia activity in a country where complicity can be found “at all levels of state administration,” Sergi said.

“The mafias are not external bodies to our otherwise well-functioning society, they are the mirror of our functioning,” added Gratteri, quoting the late judge Falcone.

“Italy is unable to admit it, it makes an enemy of it, forgetting that it (the mafia) is part of who we are,” he said.

“In each of us there is a little 'Ndranghetist',” said Gratteri.

By AFP's Alvise Armellini

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CRIME

New York returns 214 stolen artworks to Italy in seven months

Authorities in New York announced on Thursday the return to Italy of 14 more antiquities, worth an estimated €2.3 million, as part of an investigation into smuggling of stolen artifacts.

New York returns 214 stolen artworks to Italy in seven months

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has been conducting an extensive investigation over the past two years into looted antiquities that have ended up in New York museums and galleries — including the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art.

During a ceremony on Thursday with the Italian consul general and Italian police representatives, 14 more artifacts – some 2,600 years old – were officially returned to Italy, bringing the total number of repatriated pieces to that country over the past seven months to 214, District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office said.

READ ALSO: Italian ‘art squad’ police recover 800 illegally-excavated archaeological finds

More than 700 pieces worth more than $100 million have been returned in the past year to 17 countries, including Italy as well as Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, and Greece, the statement added.

New York, a hub of stolen antiquities trafficking for decades, set up a task force in 2017 to investigate the illicit trade.

According to the statement by District Attorney Bragg, who took office in January 2022, Thursday’s repatriation included the silver “Sicily Naxos Coin,” minted around 430 BCE and currently valued at half a million dollars.

Other notable items included ancient pottery dating to 510 BCE, and amarble head of Roman Emperor Hadrian, dating to 200 CE.

Among the culprits behind the 14 returned pieces, the statement said, were well-known art traffickers Giacomo Medici and Giovanni Franco Becchina, as well as Robert Hecht, the Paris-based American art dealer who died in 2012.

The traffickers had “relied on gangs of tombaroli (tomb raiders) to loot carefully chosen and insufficiently guarded archaeological sites throughout the Mediterranean,” it added.

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