Italy has been focusing on violent clans within the largest mafia trial in many years

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© Reuters. The trial of 355 alleged members of the Ndrangheta mafia opens in Lamezia Terme

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By Yara Nardi and Gabriele Pileri

LAMEZIA TERME, Italy (Reuters) – One of the largest Mafia lawsuits in Italy was launched on Wednesday. More than 320 alleged gangsters and their employees were charged with extortion, drug trafficking and theft, among other things.

The case is against the ‘Ndrangheta clan, based in Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot, considered by prosecutors to be the most powerful mafia group in the country, which easily infiltrates the better-known Cosa Nostra gang in Sicily Shadows.

The process takes place in a converted call center in the Calabrian city of Lamezia Terme. The defendants are housed in metal cages and rows of desks set up for the hundreds of lawyers, prosecutors, journalists and onlookers expected.

Many of the accused are white-collar workers, including lawyers, accountants, businessmen, local politicians and police officers. According to Attorney General Nicola Gratteri, the Ndrangheta willingly helped build their crime empire.

When Gratteri entered the courthouse, he spoke to reporters and said the investigation had encouraged locals to speak up.

“Over the past two years there has been an increase in lawsuits from downtrodden business owners and citizens, usury victims and people who have lived for years under the threat of the ‘Ndrangheta,” said the prosecutor, who has fought the mob for more than 30 years.

The state will call 913 witnesses and fall back on 24,000 hours of intercepted calls to support the myriad charges. Gratteri said he expected the process to take a year as the court would sit six days a week.

Another 92 suspects have opted for an express trial in the same case. Hearings are slated to begin later in January, while a much smaller group of defendants will stand on trial in February for five murders – including the murder of a Mafia fighter who was shot for being gay, prosecutors say.

The last time Italy tried hundreds of alleged mafiosi at the same time was in Palermo in 1986 in a case that marked a turning point in the fight against Cosa Nostra and the beginning of the group’s severe decline.

This process had a huge impact as it targeted numerous mob families. The Calabrian process focuses mainly on just one group – the Mancuso clan from the province of Vibo Valentia – and leaves much of the top hierarchy of the Ndrangheta untouched.

“The road ahead is still very long, but we mustn’t give up because thousands of people believe in us. We can’t let them down,” Gratteri told Reuters.

(Reporting and writing by Crispian Balmer; editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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