Major anti-mafia trial kicks off in Italy

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ROME, Jan. 13 (Xinhua) -- A major mafia trial against 325 suspected mobsters and corrupt officials kicked off in the southern Italian city of Lamezia Terme on Wednesday.

The trial, which targets the 'Ndrangheta crime group based in the southern region of Calabria, was considered Italy's largest anti-mafia trial in decades.

Tight security measures and a crowd of domestic and international media accompanied the opening session of the trial, which was being held in a huge courtroom specifically built for this event by Italian authorities, with cages ready to host the defendants.

For the next months, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the hearings will however partially count on videoconference to connect with those defendants currently in prison.

The 325 defendants are facing 438 different charges, including mafia association, attempted murder, drug trafficking, extortion, loan-sharking, illegal possession of weapons and abuse of office.

Some 928 witnesses and 58 mobsters-turned-informants will be called to testify against them.

Such large numbers in an anti-mafia court case in Italy were last seen in the so-called "maxi-trial" held between 1986 and 1992 in Palermo, where late prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino along with colleagues brought some 460 Sicilian mobsters before the court.

The current trial stemmed from an investigation launched by Catanzaro chief prosecutor Nicola Gratteri in 2016, which ended up with hundreds of arrests carried out in Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Bulgaria in December 2019.

The probe especially targeted the Mancuso family, a most powerful 'Ndrangheta clan rooted in the Calabrian town of Limbadi, and with business ramifications in Italy and abroad.

Along with the alleged members of the mob, dozens of entrepreneurs, police officers, local civil servants and politicians -- including a right-wing former senator and a left-wing former regional councilor -- stood accused of either being external associates or having aided the mafia.

Since the early 2000s, the 'Ndrangheta is believed to have become the most powerful and the richest of Italy's three crime syndicates -- the others being Cosa Nostra in Sicily and Camorra in the Campania region around Naples.

The crime group is widely believed by Italian and European investigators to lead the cocaine traffic between South America and Europe. Enditem

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