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'Ndrangheta

The Calabrian 'Ndrangheta (from the Greek word andragathía for "heroism" and "virtue"—"The Honored Society"), , is one of the most powerful and violent organized crime organizations in Italy. Despite not being as famous abroad as the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, and having been considered more rural compared to the Neapolitan Camorra and the Apulian Sacra Corona Unita, the 'Ndrangheta managed to become the most powerful crime syndicate of Italy in the late nineties and early 2000s. While commonly lumped together with the Sicilian Mafia, the 'Ndrangheta operates independently from the Sicilians, though there is contact between the two due to the geographical closeness of Calabria and Sicily.

Characteristics

Italian anti-organized crime agencies estimated in 2007 that the 'Ndrangheta has annual revenue of about 35–40 billion (US$50–60 billion), which amounts to approximately 3.5% of the GDP of Italy. This comes mostly from illegal drug trafficking, but also from ostensibly legal businesses such as construction, restaurants and supermarkets.

There are approximately 100 of these families, totaling between 4,000 and 5,000 members in Reggio Calabria . Most of the groups (86) operate in the province of Reggio Calabria, although a portion of the recorded 70 criminal groups based in the Calabrian provinces Catanzaro and Cosenza also appears to be formally affiliated with the 'Ndrangheta. The families are concentrated in poor villages in Calabria such as Platì, Locri, San Luca, Africo and Altomonte as well as the main city and provincial capital Reggio Calabria. San Luca is considered to be the stronghold of the 'Ndrangheta. According to a former 'ndranghetista, "almost all the male inhabitants belong to the 'Ndrangheta, and the Sanctuary of Polsi has long been the meeting place of the affiliates." Bosses from outside Calabria, from as far as Canada and Australia, regularly attend the meetings at the Sanctuary of Polsi.

The 'Ndrangheta has had a remarkable ability to establish branches abroad, mainly through migration. The worldwide membership is estimated to be 20,000. The overlap of blood and mafia family seems to have helped the 'Ndrangheta expand beyond its traditional territory: "The familial bond has not only worked as a shield to protect secrets and enhance security, but also helped to maintain identity in the territory of origin and reproduce it in territories where the family has migrated". 'Ndrine are reported to be operating in northern Italy, Germany, Belgium, Holland, France, Eastern Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia. One group of 'ndranghetistas discovered outside Italy was in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, several decades ago. They were dubbed the Siderno Group by Canadian judges as most of its members hailed from Siderno.

Prosecution in Calabria is hindered by the fact that Italian judges and prosecutors who score highly in exams get to choose their posting; those who are forced to work in Calabria will usually request to be transferred right away. With weak government presence and corrupt officials, few civilians are willing to speak out against the organization.

Organizational structure

Both the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and the 'Ndrangheta are loose confederations of about one hundred mafia groups, also called cosche or families, each of which claims sovereignty over a territory, usually a town or village, though without ever fully conquering and legitimizing its monopoly of violence.

The principal difference with the Mafia is in recruitment methods. The 'Ndrangheta recruits members on the criterion of blood relationships resulting in an extraordinary cohesion within the family clan that presents a major obstacle to investigation. Sons of ‘ndranghetisti are expected to follow in their father's footsteps, and go through a grooming process in their youth to become giovani d’onore (boys of honor) before they eventually enter the ranks as uomini d’onore (men of honor). There are relatively few Calabrians who have opted out to become a pentito; at the end of 2002, there were 157 Calabrian witnesses in the state witness protection program. Unlike the Sicilian Mafia in the early 1990s, they have scrupulously avoided a head-on confrontation with the Italian state.

A 'Ndrangheta crime family is called a locale (place). A locale may have branches, called 'ndrina (plural: 'ndrine), in the districts of the same city, in neighbouring towns and villages, or even outside Calabria, in cities and towns in the industrial North of Italy in and around Turin and Milan. Sometimes sotto 'ndrine are established. These subunits enjoy a high degree of autonomy – they have a leader and independent staff. In some contexts the 'ndrine have become more powerful than the locale on which they formally depend. Other observers maintain that the 'ndrina is the basic organizational unit. Each 'ndrina is "autonomous on its territory and no formal authority stands above the " 'ndrina boss", according to the Antimafia Commission. The 'ndrina is usually in control of a small town or a neighborhood. If more than one 'ndrina operates in the same town, they form a locale.

Blood family and membership of the crime family overlap to a great extent within the 'Ndrangheta. By and large, the 'ndrine consist of men belonging to the same family lineage. Salvatore Boemi, Anti-mafia prosecutor in Reggio Calabria, told the Italian Antimafia Commission that "one becomes a member for the simple fact of being born in a mafia family," although other reasons might attract a young man to seek membership, and non-kin have also been admitted. Marriages help cement relations within each 'ndrina and to expand membership. As a result, a few blood families constitute each group, hence "a high number of people with the same last name often end up being prosecuted for membership of a given 'ndrina." Indeed, since there is no limit to the membership of a single unit, bosses try to maximize descendants.

At the bottom of the chain of command are the picciotti d’onore or soldiers, who are expected to perform tasks with blind obedience until they are promoted to the next level of cammorista, where they will be granted command over their own group of soldiers. The next level is known as santista and higher still is the vangelista, upon which the up-and-coming gangster has to swear their dedication to a life of crime on the Bible. The quintino is the second highest level of command in a 'Ndrangheta clan, being made up of five privileged members of the crime family who report directly to the boss, the capobastone (head of command).

Power structure

For many years, the power apparatus of the single families were the sole ruling bodies within the two associations, and they have remained the real centers of power even after superordinate bodies were created in the Cosa Nostra beginning in the 1950s (the Sicilian Mafia Commission) and in the 'Ndrangheta a superordinate body was created only in 1991 as the result of negotiations to end years of inter family violence.

Unlike the Sicilian Mafia, the 'Ndrangheta managed to maintain a horizontal organizational structure up to the early 1990s, avoiding the establishment of a formal superordinate body. Information of several witnesses has undermined the myth of absolute autonomy of Calabrian crime families, however. At least since the end of the 19th century, stable mechanisms for coordination and dispute settlement were created. Contacts and meetings among the bosses of the locali were frequent.

At least since the 1950s, the chiefs of the 'Ndrangheta locali have met regularly near the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Polsi in the municipality of San Luca during the September Feast. These annual meetings, known as the crimine, have traditionally served as a forum to discuss future strategies and settle disputes among the locali. The assembly exercises weak supervisory powers over the activities of all 'Ndrangheta groups. Strong emphasis was placed on the temporary character of the position of the crimine boss. A new representative was elected at each meeting. Far from being the "boss of the bosses," the capo crimine actually has comparatively little authority to interfere in family feuds or to control the level of interfamily violence.

At these meetings, every boss "must give account of all the activities carried out during the year and of all the most important facts taking place in his territory such as kidnappings, homicides, etc." The historical preeminence of the San Luca family is such that every new group or locale must obtain its authorization to operate and every group belonging to the 'Ndrangheta "still has to deposit a small percentage of illicit proceeds to the principale of San Luca in recognition of the latter’s primordial supremacy."

Security concerns have led to the creation in the 'Ndrangheta of a secret society within the secret society: La Santa. Membership in the Santa is only known to other members. Contrary to the code, it allowed bosses to establish close connections with state representatives, even to the extent that some were affiliated with the Santa. These connections were often established through the Freemasonry, which the santisti - breaking another rule of the traditional code - were allowed to join.

Activities

According to Italian DIA (Direzione Investigativa Antimafia, Department of the Police of Italy against organized crime) and Guardia di Finanza (Italian Financial Police and Customs Police) the "'Ndrangheta is now one of the most powerful criminal organizations in the world." Economic activities of 'Ndrangheta include international cocaine and weapons smuggling, with Italian investigators estimating that 80% of Europe's cocaine passes through the Calabrian port of Gioia Tauro and is controlled by the 'Ndrangheta. 'Ndrangeta groups and Sicilian Cosa Nostra groups sometimes act as joint ventures in cocaine trafficking enterprises. Further activities include skimming money off large public work construction projects, money laundering and traditional crimes such as usury and extortion. 'Ndrangheta invests illegal profits in legal real estate and financial activities.

Outside Italy

Magistrates in Calabria sounded the alarm a few years ago about the international scale of the 'Ndrangheta's operations. It is now believed to have surpassed the traditional axis between the Sicilian and American Cosa Nostra, to become the major importer of cocaine to Europe. Outside Italy 'Ndrangheta operates in several countries, such as:

  • Argentina: In November 2006, a cocaine trafficking network was dismantled that operated in Argentina, Spain and Italy. The Argentinian police said the ‘Ndrangheta had roots in the country and shipped cocaine through Spain to Milan and Turin.
  • Australia: Known by the name "The Honoured Society", The 'Ndrangheta controlled Italian-Australian organized crime all along the East Coast of Australia since the early 20th century. The 'Ndrangheta began in Australia in Queensland, where they continued their form of rural organized crime, especially in the fruit and vegetable industry. After the 1998–2006 Melbourne gangland killings which included the murder of 'Ndrangheta Godfather Frank Benvenuto, the Honoured Society has reportedly been expelled from Melbourne, losing its territory to the Sicilian backed "Carlton Crew" and the Irish Moran family. In 2008, the members of 'Ndrangheta were involved in the importation of 15 million ecstasy pills, at the time the worlds largest ecstasy haul, Melbourne in a shipping container hidden in tomato cans brought in from Calabria. Australian 'Ndrangheta boss Pasquale Barbaro was arrested. Pasquale Barbaro's father Francesco Barbaro was had been a boss throughout the 1970s and early 1980s until his retirement.
  • Belgium: 'Ndrangheta clans purchased almost "an entire neighbourhood" in Brussels with laundered money originating from drug trafficking. On March 5, 2004, 47 people were arrested, accused of drug trafficking and money laundering purchasing real estate in Brussels for some 28 million euros. The activities extended to the Netherlands where large quantities of heroin and cocaine had been purchased by the Pesce-Bellocco clan from Rosarno and the Strangio clan from San Luca.
  • Canada: In Canada 'Ndrangheta is believed to be involved in the smuggling of unlicensed tobacco products through ties with criminal elements in cross-border Native American tribes. According to Alberto Cisterna of the Italian National Anti-Mafia Directorate, the ‘Ndrangheta has a heavy presence in Canada. "There is a massive number of their people in North America, especially in Canada and Toronto. And for two reasons. The first is linked to the banking system. Canada's banking system is very secretive; it does not allow investigation. So Canada is the ideal place to launder money. The second reason is to smuggle drugs." Like most organized crime, the 'Ndrangheta have found Canada a useful North American entry point given its porous ports and proximity to the United States. A Canadian branch labelled the "Siderno Group" – because its members primarily came from the Ionian coastal town of Siderno in Calabria – is based in Canada at least since the 1950s. Siderno is also home to one of the 'Ndrangheta's biggest and most important clans, heavily involved in the global cocaine business and money laundering. Antonio Commisso, the alleged leader of the Siderno group, is reported to lead efforts to import "...illicit arms, explosives and drugs..." Elements of 'Ndrangheta have been reported to have been present in Hamilton, Canada as early as 1911.
  • Colombia: 'Ndrangheta clans were closely associated to the AUC paramilitary groups which were led by son of Italian immigrants Salvatore Mancuso, who surrendered to Alvaro Uribe's government in order to avoid extradition to the USA. According to Giuseppe Lumia of the Italian Parliamentary Antimafia Commission, 'Ndrangheta clans are actively involved in the production of cocaine.
  • France
  • Germany: According to a study by the German foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), 'Ndrangheta groups are using Germany to invest cash from drugs and weapons smuggling. Profits are invested in hotels, restaurants and houses, especially along the Baltic coast and in eastern German states of Thuringia and Saxony. Investigators believe that the mafia's bases in Germany are used primarily for clandestine financial transactions. In 1999, the state Office of Criminal Investigation in Stuttgart investigated an Italian from San Luca who had allegedly laundered millions through a local bank, the Sparkasse Ulm. The man claimed that he managed a profitable car dealership, and authorities were unable to prove that the business was not the source of his money. The BKA concluded—seven years ago—that "the activities of this 'Ndrangheta clan represent a multi-regional criminal phenomenon." A war between the two 'Ndrangheta clans Pelle-Romeo (Pelle-Vottari) and Strangio-Nirta from San Luca that had started in 1991 and resulted in several deaths spilled into Germany in 2007; six men were shot to death in front of an Italian restaurant in Duisburg on 15 August 2007. (See San Luca feud.)
  • Netherlands: Sebastiano Strangio allegedly lived for 10 years in The Netherlands, where he managed his contacts with Colombian cocaine cartels. He was arrested in Amsterdam on October 27, 2005. The seaports of Rotterdam and Amsterdam are used to import cocaine. The Giorgi, Nirta and Strangio clans from San Luca have a base in the Netherlands and Brussels (Belgium).
  • Spain
  • Mexico
  • United States: 'Ndrangheta activity in the USA involves mainly drug trafficking, arms smuggling and money laundering. It is know that the 'Ndrangheta braches in North America have been associating with the Italian-American organized crime. The Suraci family from Reggio Calbria have moved some of its operations to the US. The family was founded by Giuseppe Suraci who has been in the United States since 1962. His younger brother Agostino runs the family in Calabria. This family is known to be extremely ruthless and violent when dealing with their enemies.

History

In the folk culture surrounding 'Ndrangheta in Calabria references to the Garduna often appear. Aside from these references, however, there is nothing to substantiate a link between the two organizations. A connection is possible, though, if only through contact to the Camorra whose possible origins in the Garduna carry more substance. At any rate, the view of the 'Ndrangheta as an heir to the Garduna (which is in turn blown up to a kind of global pirate organization) has certainly existed at times in Calabrian history.. The Greek origin of the name 'Ndrangheta derives from the Griko language, an ancient Greek dialect which is spoken by people in the Calabria.

During the 17th century there was a secret society in Calabria that resembled but was not called 'Ndrangheta. Whether this was the seeds of 'Ndrangheta is speculation.

The first certain evidence of 'Ndrangheta derives from shortly after Italian unification (1861). Thus it is common to give its date of origin as being around this point. Italian unity was not immediately a positive development for southern Italy: the local populace was impoverished while squires from the north took over large southern estates and heavy taxation was imposed. In this situation, 'Ndrangheta was either formed or heavily reinforced (if it already existed) by Calabrians who wanted to get even by blackmailing and robbing the rich (see also Social bandits).

Until 1975, the 'Ndrangheta operated only in Calabria, mainly involved in extortion and blackmailing. Then a gang war started, killing 300 people. The prevailing faction began to kidnap rich people from northern Italy for ransom. It is believed that John Paul Getty III was one of their victims, though the kidnappers have never been caught. The "second 'Ndrangheta war" raged from 1985 to 1991. The bloody six-year war between the Condello-Imerti clan and De Stefano allied with the Tegano clan left 600 deaths. In the 1990s the organization started to invest in the illegal international drug trade, mainly importing cocaine from Colombia.

Francesco Fortugno, popular center-left politician and deputy president of the regional parliament, was openly killed by the 'Ndrangheta on October 16, 2005, in Locri. Demonstrations against the organization ensued, with youthful protesters carrying banderoles of "Ammazzateci tutti!"—"Kill us all! The government started a large-scale enforcement operation in Calabria and arrested numerous 'ndranghetistas including the murderers of Fortugno.

In March 2006, the national anti-Mafia prosecutor announced the discovery of a submarine in Colombia; it was being constructed on behalf of the 'Ndrangheta for smuggling cocaine.

The 'Ndrangheta has recently expanded its activities to Northern Italy, mainly to sell drugs and to invest in legitimate businesses which can be used for money laundering. The mayor of Buccinasco was threatened when he tried to halt these investments; in May 2007 twenty members of 'Ndrangheta were arrested in Milan.

On August 30, 2007, hundreds of police raided the small town of San Luca, the focal point of the bitter San Luca feud between rival clans among the 'Ndrangheta. Over 30 men and women, linked to the killing of six Italian men in Germany, were arrested.

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