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CRIME

Italian mobsters get decades in jail in mafia ‘maxi-trial’

Italy struck an early blow Saturday against the country's powerful 'Ndrangheta organised crime group, convicting 70 mobsters and others in a first, crucial test of the largest mafia trial in more than three decades.

A bunker room built for the trial in Calabria.
A bunker room built for the trial in Calabria. Photo: GIANLUCA CHININEA / AFP

Judge Claudio Paris read out verdicts and sentences against 91 defendants in the massive courtroom in the Calabrian city of Lamezia Terme.

While 355 people have yet to be judged in proceedings that are expected to last two years or longer, those judged Saturday had opted for a speedy trial.

That procedure, which took place behind closed doors, allowed them to have a third of their sentence shaved off if they were convicted.

Since January, a specially adapted courtroom has hosted the “maxi trial” of hundreds of suspects affiliated with the ‘Ndrangheta, the country’s richest and most powerful mafia group.

Famed anti-mafia prosecutor Nicola Gratteri — whose efforts to defeat the ‘Ndrangheta have caused him to live under police escort for more than 30 years — said the sentencing had gone “very well”.

“Out of 91 defendants, there were 70 presumed innocent who were convicted,” Gratteri told Italian news agency AdnKronos, adding that those acquitted had been minor players.

SEE ALSO: 200 frozen dormice – Italian police seize stash of prized mafia dish

Some of the group’s most dangerous members received the maximum 20-year sentence requested by prosecutors. They included Domenico Macri of the group’s military wing; Pasquale Gallone, the right-hand man of alleged mob boss Luigi Mancuso, whose trial is still pending; and Gregorio Niglia, whose role included procuring weapons and extortion.

About a third of the group received sentences of a decade or more, while 21 individuals were acquitted, seven at the request of prosecutors, Gratteri said.

Biggest fish

The ‘Ndrangheta, which is entrenched in Italy’s poorest region of Calabria in the toe of the peninsula’s boot, has surpassed Sicily’s Cosa Nostra in power and wealth. The group controls the bulk of cocaine flowing into Europe.

The biggest fish in the prosecution’s case have opted for the  more lengthy trial, namely Mancuso “The Uncle”, 67, considered the leader of the ‘Ndrangheta families who dominated the Vibo Valentia province of Calabria, and ex-senator and lawyer Giancarlo Pittelli, 68, accused of being Mancuso’s white-collar fixer.

Eight defendants in the fast-track trial faced a maximum of 20 years: of them, six received the full sentence. They included Gallone, 62, who helped orchestrate his boss Mancuso’s three years on the run beginning in 2014.
Mancuso had only recently been released from prison after serving 19 years.

The ‘Ndrangheta has approximately 150 families jockeying for position within the organisation. They are supported by at least 6,000 members and affiliates in Calabria, swelling to thousands worldwide, experts estimate.

Its reach is now international, with illegal gains reinvested in the legitimate economy. And the ‘Ndrangheta’s ability to infiltrate nearly all
segments of public administration back home in Calabria has allowed it to reap lucrative contracts and cement its power.

Charges in the case include association with mafia, attempted murder, money laundering, usury, drug-dealing, extortion and illegal weapons possession.

The maxi-trial is being held in a sprawling courtroom to accomodate the hundreds of lawyers involved and features over 900 prosecution witnesses and 58 state witnesses.

Eclipsing the current trial in size was Italy’s legendary maxi-trial of 1986-1987 that dealt a major blow to Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, with 338 people
convicted.

Antimafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were later assassinated by the mob.

SEE ALSO: Mafioso on the run caught after posting Italian cooking videos

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ROME

‘Bank robber’ rescued in Rome after tunnel collapses

Four people were arrested in Rome after a suspected would-be bank robber was rescued from a tunnel under a road, police said on Friday.

'Bank robber' rescued in Rome after tunnel collapses

An Italian man had to be rescued after becoming trapped in a collapsed tunnel near the Vatican, suspected of being part of a gang burrowing its way to a nearby bank.

Firefighters spent eight hours digging him out from under a road in the west of Rome, before he was finally freed on Thursday evening and taken to hospital.

“Two people from Naples were arrested for resisting a public official and two, from Rome, for damage” to public property, a police spokesman told AFP.

The rescued man, one of the two Romans, remains in hospital, he said without giving an update on his condition.

“We are still investigating, we do not exclude that they are thieves, it is one of the theories,” he said.

For Italian newspapers, however, the motive was clear, with reports noting the tunnel was found near a bank ahead of the August 15th long weekend, when residents traditionally head out of town and much of Rome is left empty.

“The hole gang,” headlined newspapers Repubblica and Corriere della Sera, while La Stampa said: “They dig a tunnel to rob a bank, and one of them is buried underground.”

Other reports referred to the suspected burglar as l’uomo-talpa, or ‘mole man’.

An AFP reporter at the scene on Thursday saw the man brought out alive on a stretcher, after a day-long operation involving dozens of emergency service workers using mechanical diggers.

The tunnel began underneath an empty shop that had recently been rented.

“We all thought that the people there were renovating the place. So we had no suspicions and we did not hear noises either,” a resident, Michele, who lives in the same building told AFP.

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