From modest beginnings as the local mafia of Calabria, at the toe of the Italian boot, the ’Ndrangheta has spread far and wide. It has penetrated Italy’s financial and industrial heartlands, Lombardy and Piedmont, more than any other organised-crime group. It has a dominant position in the transatlantic cocaine trade, building on alliances with Colombian and then Mexican mobsters. One study put its turnover in 2013 at over €50 billion ($69 billion).
But who controls the ’Ndrangheta? The question is central to one of Italy’s longest-running mafia trials, which is expected to end shortly after almost three years. The trial arose from an investigation code-named “Operation Goal” that led in 2010 to more than 40 arrests. Among the accused are members of the most notorious families in Reggio di Calabria. One, Pasquale Condello, is known as Il supremo.
The prosecutor, Giuseppe Lombardo, argues that neither Mr Condello nor any other known or alleged mobster is truly supreme; they take their cues from an “invisible” ’Ndrangheta from the outwardly respectable middle class. In February Mr Lombardo altered the charges to reflect this, inviting the judges to express their view of his case in their written judgment.
The earliest hint of a hidden ’Ndrangheta emerged in 2007, during an investigation overseen by Mr Lombardo into how the group tried to profit from the construction of a new motorway. Eavesdropping on a trade unionist, Sebastiano Altomonte, police heard him describe his contacts with ’Ndrangheta leaders and explain to his wife that they were split between “the visible and the invisible, which was born a couple of years ago”. He was among the “invisibles”, he said. It was previously believed that a co-ordinating body, the Provincia, was the ’Ndrangheta’s high command; it also has an assembly called the Crimine (“Crime”), believed to meet once a year during the pilgrimage to a sanctuary in the Aspromonte uplands.
He argues that in recent years the police in Calabria have had excellent results against the ’Ndrangheta. “But the organisation does not get any weaker. So we know that we are hitting it at a level below that which really counts
Organised crime in Italy: From toe to top, Economist, Apr. 26, 2014, at 52