Thursday, June 08, 2006

Bigger than the Mafia, the Ndrangheta.

Crime: Interesting piece in the Guardian about an old much lesser know crime syndicate that is taking over the place of the Cosa Notra.

Cosa Nostra, perhaps because of its links to the United States, and in no small measure because of the Godfather books and films, continues to exercise an irresistible fascination. It was demonstrated most recently by the publicity given to the arrest of its "boss of bosses", Bernardo Provenzano. But the evidence suggests that, while the Sicilian Mafia, like the US Mafia, has been fading to a shadow of its former self, the little-known 'Ndrangheta (pronounced "en-drang-ay-ta") has been taking over as Italy's true public enemy number one and has become a criminal empire with global clout. For a start, it is bigger than the Mafia. Most estimates put its strength at 6,000-7,000 men against 5,000 for Sicily's Cosa Nostra. But Nicola Gratteri, a prosecutor who has specialised in tracing the Calabrian syndicate's international ramifications, reckons the figure for the 'Ndrangheta is an underestimate. "Altogether in the world, I would say it has maybe 10,000 members," he says at his office in the regional capital, Reggio Calabria. As with the Mafia, the 'Ndrangheta's tentacles have spread thanks to emigration from Italy. In the period running up to 1925, dirt-poor Calabria lost more of its population than Sicily and more indeed than all but two of Italy's 20 regions. There was another massive outflow of Calabrians after the second world war, with the result that there are large communities of Calabrian descent - and remote outposts of the 'Ndrangheta - in Latin America, Canada and Australia. The links with Latin America have proved particularly important, for they have helped the 'Ndrangheta to become a leading player in the global cocaine trade. Gratteri estimates that 80% of the cocaine entering Europe today is brought in by Calabrian mobsters. "The 'Ndrangheta," says Macri, "represents the globalisation of Italian organised crime." Despite the 'Ndrangheta's new-found international prominence, its origins, as with all Italy's organised crime syndicates, remain obscure. Its name, like many dialect terms in Calabria, seems to be of Greek origin. It has been variously translated as referring to courage, loyalty and nobility. According to the FBI, the 'Ndrangheta was formed in the 1860s by a band of Sicilians exiled from their native island - an explanation that could mean the organisation grew out of the original Mafia. At all events, court documents in the latter part of the 19th century increasingly reflected the existence of organised gangs in and around the main centres of population, and in 1888 the prefect of Reggio Calabria received a letter from an anonymous informant alerting him to the presence of "a sect that fears nothing".
More at the link above.

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