Members of huge crime syndicate handed a combined 2,100 years in prison

Officials listen as judges read the verdicts of a maxi-trial of hundreds of people accused of membership in Italy’s ‘ndrangheta organized crime syndicate (Picture: AP)

More than 200 people connected to one of Italy’s biggest crime syndicates have been sentenced to hundreds of years in prison.

An Italian tribunal sentenced 207 people to a combined 2,100 years in prison on charges related to their membership in the ’ndrangheta family.

The mafia group is one of the world’s most powerful, extensive and wealthy drug-trafficking groups.

It took over an hour and 40 minutes to read aloud the court’s lengthy verdict, including the acquittal of 131 other defendants.

The drama unfolded in a bunker-stye courtroom in the southern Calabria region, where the mob organization was originally based.

The ’ndrangheta quietly amassed power in Italy and abroad as the Sicilian Mafia lost influence and now holds almost a monopoly on cocaine importation in Europe, according to prosecutors.

President of the court judge Brigida Cavasino, center, flanked by judges Claudia Caputo, left, and Germana Radice, reads the verdicts (Picture: AP)

The organization also has bases in North and South America and is active in Africa, Italian prosecutors claimed.

Figures connected to the group have also been arrested in recent years around Europe and in Brazil and Lebanon.

The defendants had been charged with crimes that include drug and arms trafficking, extortion and mafia association – a term in Italy’s penal code for members of organised crime groups.

Others were charged with acting in complicity with the ’ndrangheta without actually being a member.

Officials arrive for a hearing of a maxi-trial of hundreds of people accused of membership in Italy’s ‘ndrangheta organized crime syndicate (Picture: AP)

The charges grew out of an investigation of 12 clans linked to a convicted ‘ndrangheta boss.

The central figure, Luigi Mancuso, served 19 years in an Italian prison for his role in leading what investigators allege is one of the ‘ndrangheta’s most powerful crime families, based in the town of Vibo Valentia.

Vincenzo Capomolla, deputy chief prosecutor of Catanzaro, said prosecutors’ overall case held up with the convictions and confirmed the stranglehold the ‘ndrangheta held on Vibo Valentia.

‘The infiltration of the criminal organization in the province of Vibo Valentia was so deep-rooted and so widespread, so alarming, so disturbing that I think it can be noted that there was no aspect of the life of the social economic fabric of the province that was not conditioned by the capacity of the force of intimidation of this so dangerous criminal organization,’ he said.

People arrive at the specially constructed bunker (Credits: AP)

The trial had to use a specially constructed high security bunker to conduct the hearing (Credits: AP)

Giuseppe Di Renzo, defense attorney for several of the defendants, however, noted that more than a third of the original defendants were fully acquitted, while others were found not guilty of some charges.

He criticized the disparate and large number of defendants, saying they showed there was no cohesive thread to the prosecutors’ case.

But Catanzaro’s former chief prosecutor who launched the investigation, Nicola Gratteri, said mafia trials often have to cast wide nets because of the very nature of how the criminal syndicates operate, infiltrating across wide swathes of society.

Several dozen informants in the case came from the ‘ndrangheta, while others formerly belonged to Sicily’s Cosa Nostra.

Awash in cocaine trafficking revenues, the ’ndrangheta has gobbled up hotels, restaurants, pharmacies, car dealerships and other businesses throughout Italy, especially in Rome and the country’s affluent north.

The buying spree spread across Europe as the syndicate sought to launder illicit revenues but also to make ‘clean’ money by running legitimate businesses, including in the tourism and hospitality sectors, investigators alleged.

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