One of Italy’s largest-ever Mafia trials kicked off on Wednesday, with more than 320 suspected mobsters and their associates facing an array of charges, including extortion, drug trafficking, theft and money laundering . The case targets the ‘Ndrangheta clan, which is based in Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot, and is considered by prosecutors to be the most powerful Mafia group in the country, easily eclipsing the more famous Cosa Nostra gang in Sicily.

The 355 suspected mobsters and corrupt officials were charged following a long inquiry into the ‘Ndrangheta group. More than 900 witnesses are expected to give evidence, and the charge sheet includes murder, drug trafficking, extortion and money laundering.

It is taking place in a specially modified building in the southern region of Calabria, which is at the heart of ‘Ndrangheta territory. In a high-security, 1,000-capacity courtroom converted from a call centre with defendants placed in metal cages and rows of desks set up for the hundreds of lawyers, prosecutors, journalists and spectators expected to attend.

Who are the defendants?

Unlike the earlier trial, which ran from 1986 to 1992 and targeted a large number of organised crime families in Sicily, trial is aimed at just one group, the Mancuso family, which forms a powerful section of the sprawling ‘Ndrangheta mafia. During a recent pre-trial hearing it took more than three hours to read the names of the defendants, AFP news agency reports. They include politicians, police officers, civil servants as well as alleged members and accomplices of the mob.

What are the charges?

The ‘Ndrangheta are believed to control the supply of huge amounts of cocaine entering Europe from South America and elsewhere but the lengthy charge sheet for the hundreds of defendants goes far beyond drug crimes. It includes mafia association, murder, attempted murder, extortion, loan sharking, money laundering and disclosure of official secrets and abuse of office.

UK’s scrutiny

“The interests of the Ndrangheta in the UK have been prominent as clans have used the country as a base for investment and money laundering,” says Nicola Gratteri, a prosecutor whose investigation culminated in the maxi-trial.

Several of the defendants will be asked to answer charges of money laundering by setting up companies in the UK for the alleged purpose of simulating legitimate economic activity and laundering billions of pounds each year through UK banks.

2019’s report from Italy’s Anti-Mafia Investigations Directorate claimed that criminal organizations laundered billions of pounds each year through UK banks. Investigations between 2018 and 2020 in Reggio Calabria claimed how the heads of the Nirta clan had entrusted the management of their profits to a man who officially sold tiles, but was described by researchers capable of creating shield companies. in Croatia. , Slovenia, Austria and Romania.  After a few years, all these companies were systematically transferred to the UK and then closed.

Colonel Claudio Petrozziello of Italy’s Guardia di Finanza, which oversees illicit capital flows, said the Ndrangheta clans in the UK had no interest in controlling local territory, only in exploiting the financial system. “It’s not that there are no rules in London,” he said. “The problem is that the risk of infiltration by the mafia is underestimated.

When the UK was part of the European Union, it benefited from effective data sharing in the fight against organized crime, The consequences of Brexit include the UK’s abandonment of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), a provision that allowed for speedy extradition, as well as the European Investigation Order (EIO), which empowered countries to petition a member state conducting an investigation, wiretapping or tracking down a suspect.

In the minds of Italian investigators who have followed the illicit activities of the ‘Ndrangheta, a new problem now looms: Brexit. The country’s magistrates and police officers have shared concerns that the Ndrangheta clans may try to take advantage of the UK’s exit from the European Union if, as they fear, police and judicial cooperation between the EU and the UK proves successfuly less effective than when both countries were in the bloc.

Brexit is forcing the UK government to rethink the fight against transnational organized crime. Criminals see borders as an opportunity and will make the most of it probably It’s just another Brexit price.

The road ahead is still very long, but UK  mustn’t give up because there are thousands of people at stake.

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