PEOPLE:  ‘Ndrangheta, Most Powerful Mafia You Never Heard

PEOPLE: ‘Ndrangheta, Most Powerful Mafia You Never Heard




Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate is believed haul in more revenue than the combined revenues of McDonald’s and Deutsche Bank.
The ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate – based in Italy’s southern Calabria region. The ‘Ndrangheta organisation is wealthier and more powerful – with interests spanning the globe from Calabria to Colombia, and as far away as Australia, with worldwide ramifications…..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 fathers’ footsteps, and go through a grooming process in their youth to become giovani d’onore (boys of honour) before they eventually enter the ranks as uomini d’onore (men of honour)….Omertà is a code of silence,that seals lips of men even in their own defense and even when the accused is innocent of charged crimes.Within Mafia culture, breaking omertà is punishable by death…….The Calabrian word ‘Ndrangheta derives from Greek ἀνδραγαθία andragathía for “heroism” and manly “virtue” or ἀνδράγαθος andrágathos meaning a courageous man. In many areas of Calabria the verb ‘ndranghitiari, from the Greek verb andragathízesthai, means “to engage in a defiant and valiant attitude”. Luigi Brambilla

Al Jazeera: The Most Powerful Mafia You’ve Never Heard of

Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate is believed haul in more revenue than many Fortune 500 companies.

An alleged member of the ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate is escorted by Italian Carabinieri police officers [AP]

Milan, Italy - The ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate – based in Italy’s southern Calabria region – is not nearly as well-known as Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian mafia. But the ‘Ndrangheta organisation is wealthier and more powerful – with interests spanning the globe from Calabria to Colombia, and as far away as Australia.

According to Demoskopika, an Italian think-tank, the ‘Ndrangheta’s activities made a whopping $60bn in revenue in 2013 – more than the combined revenues of McDonald’s and Deutsche Bank.

That’s roughly three percent of Italy’s GDP.

They have successfully exploited the Calabrian immigrants that headed to Germany, the US, Australia, Belgium, Colombia, and France after World War II. They used family ties to create new links and expand their influence worldwide.

Antonio Nicaso, analyst

The ‘Ndrangheta is estimated to control about 80 percent of Europe’s cocaine traffic, and is believed to have invested in construction projects in Italy, Belgium, the United States, and Germany.

“The ‘Ndrangheta is the perfect example of a globalised criminal network,” said Antonio Nicaso, an expert on the group.

“They have successfully exploited the Calabrian immigrants that headed to Germany, the US, Australia, Belgium, Colombia, and France after World War II. They used family ties to create new links and expand their influence worldwide.”

From kidnapping to cocaine

The ‘Ndrangheta’s operations began in the 1960s and ’70s, focusing on kidnappings for ransom.

“This allowed the criminal organisation to accumulate an initial capital that at the end of the ’80s was invested in cocaine,” explained Ilaria Meli, a researcher at the Observatory of Organised Crime at the Universita’ Statale of Milan.

“This decision represents a first turning point for the ‘Ndrangheta, as it proved to be quicker than Cosa Nostra in understanding and exploiting a crucial shift of the drug market.”

This strategy brought billions of dollars to the ‘Ndrangheta’s coffers. 

“Today, their problem is that they have more cash than they can possible use,” said Giuseppe Catozzella, an investigative reporter and the author of several books on the criminal syndicate.

In Alveare, Catozzella’s book about the ‘Ndrangheta published last year, one wiretap recorded a conversation between two mobsters. One of them was digging out a stash of money buried in a forest, and notified the other that “millions are rotten because of the humidity”.

The other mobster replied nonchalantly: “Just throw them away.”

The ‘Ndrangheta’s ascension was aided by a strategic mistake made by the Sicilian mafia.

At the end of the 1980s, Cosa Nostra embarked on an “anti-state” policy, culminating in the spectacular killings of top anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992.

The government reacted by deploying the army to Sicily and passing a new law that allowed imprisoned criminals linked to the mafia to be placed in solitary confinement.

“Those years were a lethal blow to Cosa Nostra’s interest outside of Sicily,” said Meli, “and they have started to reorganise themselves only over the past few years, as shown by a recent report from the DIA [Italy’s anti-organised-crime unit]”.

Italian anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone, his wife, Francesca Morvillo, and three bodyguards were killed in a bomb explosion on Palermo’s motorway near Capaci, Sicily in 1992 [EPA]

While the Italian authorities and media attention were focused on the Sicilians, the Calabrians were able to slowly but steadily expand into Italy’s wealthy north.

Catozzela explained that in 1994, leaders of four major Italian mafias met at Lake Como to carve up the northern market.

“‘Ndrangheta obtained 70 percent of it, a result that shows the power and influence it had achieved in just over two decades.”

Exploiting opportunities

From Milan, in Italy’s north, the rest of Europe is just a few hundred kilometres away. In the 2000s, the ‘Ndrangheta was again able to take advantage of circumstances.

After the September 11 attacks, the Italian government diverted resources to the fight against “terrorism”, allowing the Calabrian criminal organisation to operate with greater impunity.

Later in the decade, the economic crisis that hit much of southern Europe gave the Calabrian mob the opportunity to invest its illegal profits.

With thousands of cash-strapped businesses across southern Europe looking for liquidity, the ‘Ndrangheta’s only problem was deciding where to invest.

The Calabrian mafia appears to be based on Ndrine, with local groups that form the building blocks of the organisation.

All the Ndrine operating in any given geographical area – from Calabria to Australia – are believed to be organised in what are called Locali, which coordinate and mediate between the various Ndrine under their aegis.

The 391147, in turn, operate under the control of a higher representative body known as Il Crimine or La Provincia, which is based in Calabria and makes the organisation’s top decisions.

The members of the La Provincia meet once a year, at the end of August, in Polsi, a small mountain town, where they celebrate the Madonna of Polsi and make important decisions for the coming year.

Every Ndrina, Locale and family operating outside of Calabria is thought to be linked to a similar unit back home. For example, investigations have shown that the Locale of Sterling, in western Australia, operated under orders coming from a Locale in Calabria.

Despite this vertical structure, the Locali enjoy a high degree of autonomy when it comes to conducting business.

But the structure of the ‘Ndrangheta’s hierarchy is not negotiable. 

When Carmelo Novella, the head of the Lombardy ‘Ndrangheta, tried to operate independently, he was killed in 2008 by one of the heads of the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria.

Not just an Italian problem

In the past, the ‘Ndrangheta has benefited from being able to operate under the radar of Italian and European authorities. As recently as 2010, the then-mayor of Milan, Letizia Moratti, denied that organised crime groups operated in the city, even though it had been present in the region for about 30 years.

“In the north of Italy, organised crime is represented as a southern [phenomenon]; in the north of Europe, as an Italian problem,” Meli summarises. 

It was only in 2007, when a shoot-out in Duisburg, Germany was linked to the ‘Ndrangheta, that German and then European authorities began to investigate the presence of the Calabrian syndicate outside of Italy.

The differences between European legal systems in dealing with mafia groups present one of the main difficulties in fighting groups like the ‘Ndrangheta.

In 1994, Italy criminalised having relations with mafia organisations, but similar laws do not exist in some other European countries.

If, for example, the Italian police asked their counterparts in a neighbouring country to arrest a suspected mafioso, the police there may not be legally able to comply.

“There seems to be little will to accept that the ‘Ndrangheta is a European problem,” Meli said.

The ‘Ndrangheta may no longer be able to avoid the attention of the authorities. But if its expansion beyond Italy is to be halted, experts agree that authorities throughout Europe need to cooperate more closely with one another.

“The ‘Ndrangheta has become global, [but] the instruments to fight it have remained national,” Nicaso concluded. “This is a problem that needs to be fixed – and quickly.”

BUSINESS INSIDER: From 2000-2011, Italy received more than $60 billion in EU funds to finance programs in, among other things, infrastructure. The Times notes that since 2001, $10 billion has been spent on the A3. And since 2000, prosecutors have arrested hundreds of people “involved with the highway,” mostly on charges of corruption and extortion.

Two days after the Times piece was published, the entire government of Reggio Calabria was dissolved due to Mafia connections.

Which gets right to the heart of the problem. In fact Calabria was the birthplace 50 years ago of one of the world’s largest, most secretive, yet loosely organised crime syndicates : the ‘Ndrangheta (pronounced en-drang-ay-ta).

The ‘Ndrangheta is growing, while its more famous cousin, La Cosa Nostra, fades. Guardian’s John Hooper wrote in 2006:

The evidence suggests that, while the Sicilian Mafia [La Cosa Nostra], like the U.S. Mafia, has been fading to a shadow of its former self, the little-known ‘Ndrangheta has been taking over as Italy’s true public enemy number one and has become a criminal empire with global clout.

The U.S. government noted the severity of the problem as well. In a cable released by Wikileaks, a U.S. official not only described organised crime as a “deep-rooted phenomena” in Southern Italy that affects all aspects of life, but singled out ‘Ndrangheta as “the most dangerous of all.” Another cable declared that Calabria would be a ‘”failed state’ were it not part of Italy because of the pervasive grip of the ‘Ndrangheta,” according to the AP.

The syndicate is still active in its birthplace: “Where there are big public works, the ‘Ndrangheta has a big interest,” Roberto di Palma, a magistrate in the Italian courts who conducted two corruption relating to highway construction, told the Times.  “The ‘Ndrangheta is a parasite.”


LISTVERSE: 10 Chilling Facts About The Secretive ‘Ndrangheta Mafia

Spanning from Canada to Australia but centered in Calabria, Italy, the ‘Ndrangheta is a global Mafia. It has been described as an octopus because wherever there is money to be made, you will find its tentacles. Police have been unable to understand this odd, ritualistic Mafia, with a Florida district attorney once describing the organization as “invisible, like the dark side of the Moon.”

Wherever there is a crisis, the ‘Ndrangheta will be there to profit, destroying human lives and the environment along the way. Today, the ‘Ndrangheta are the world’s largest criminal organization, with annual revenue surpassing that of McDonald’s and Deutsche Bank combined.

10. The Proto-Mafia

Originally, the term “mafioso” had no criminal connotations. It meant “manly,” referring to a young man who was suspicious of central government. The island of Sicily had a history of being ruled by foreign invaders, and these mafiosi would band together to protect the people.

In the 19th century, feudal barons in need of money sold off their lands to private citizens. When Italy annexed Sicily in 1860, they turned over even more land to the people. Having lost their wealth, the barons released their private armies. As the state had not yet organized its police force on the island, the suddenly rich citizens fell prey to bandits. The mafiosi were hired to protect landowners and businesses. Soon, they were also paid to collect debts and enforce contracts.

Before long, the mafiosi realized that they could boost their profits by becoming both bandits and protectors. This was the beginning of the protection racket and the Mafia in Sicily. They called themselves, La Cosa Nostra (“Our Thing”). Hollywood has made many movies about them, including The Godfather.

Some of these Sicilians were exiled to the destitute region of Calabria, located in the “toe” of Italy’s “boot.” They formed a separate Mafia, a secretive outfit known as the ‘Ndrangheta.

9. A Severed Ear

9-j-paul-getty-iiiPhoto credit: Bravo Kilo via YouTube

For nearly a century, the ‘Ndrangheta remained in Calabria, a Mafia growing in the shadows among the poor. In 1888, a Calabrian prefect received a letter from an anonymous informant alerting him to the presence of “a sect that fears nothing.”

In 1975, the ‘Ndrangheta was divided. The older generations wanted to stay local and hidden. The younger generations wanted to grow their operations and expand their territory. This led to the murder of a godfather, igniting a civil war within the gang. After 300 deaths, a young, ambitious faction rose to the top. Their first order of business was to kidnap and ransom wealthy businessmen, hiding them in the caves of Calabria.

The young faction had known success with kidnapping in the past. In 1973, they kidnapped the grandson of oil tycoon John Paul Getty, demanding a ransom of $17 million. At first, Getty refused to pay, claiming that it would put his 14 grandchildren at risk. After all, if he paid for one, it might encourage criminals to kidnap the rest. So the ‘Ndrangheta sliced off his grandson’s ear and sent it to Getty in the mail.

Getty’s son begged his father to pay the ransom. At last, Getty relented, agreeing to pay the kidnappers the reduced amount of $2.2 million on one condition: His son had to repay the debt to Getty at 4 percent interest. Our sources are unclear on whether the elder Getty demanded simple or compound interest. Another factor appeared to influence the amount that Getty was willing to pay: $2.2 million was the maximum that was tax-deductible.

Fortunately, the ‘Ndrangheta accepted the smaller ransom and returned the grandson. When his grandson called Getty to thank him, Getty refused to take the call.

8. The Decline Of La Cosa Nostra

Using the ransom money from their kidnappings, the ‘Ndrangheta plowed money into the narcotics business. But Sicily’s La Cosa Nostra was still the most powerful Mafia at that time. So at first, the ‘Ndrangheta had to buy all their cocaine through La Cosa Nostra.

As ‘Ndrangheta grew, it made its own contacts in Colombia. Eventually, the Colombians preferred ‘Ndrangheta over hotheaded La Cosa Nostra. The ‘Ndrangheta were reliable, they didn’t talk, and they paid on time.

La Cosa Nostra didn’t invest as much in cocaine, pushing most of their resources into selling heroin. This backfired on them when the heroin market dried up in the 1980s because of the AIDS scare.

La Cosa Nostra had once operated under an inviolable code of silence, too. But that changed in 1959 with the arrest of Joe Valachi. He agreed to rat on his organization in exchange for dodging the death penalty. With the code broken, an increasing number of mobsters turned to the authorities for protection. This led to the Mafia Commission Trial of 1987, which debilitated La Cosa Nostra.

The ‘Ndrangheta took the title of “world’s most powerful Mafia.” They’ve proven far more difficult to destroy than La Cosa Nostra.

7. The Secret Society

The ‘Ndrangheta are a loose federation of Mafia families that come together to coordinate but are otherwise independent. With La Cosa Nostra, if you cut off the head, the body dies. But the ‘Ndrangheta is more like Hydra in Greek mythology, the serpent with many heads that regrew two heads for every one that was cut off.

The authorities have had little luck in getting the ‘Ndrangheta to rat on each other because all the members of this Mafia are literally family, unlike La Cosa Nostra that admits strangers as “family.” With membership in ‘Ndrangheta limited to blood relatives, the bosses try to maximize the number of their descendants.

The ‘Ndrangheta operates as a secret society like the stonemasons. In 2014, Italian detectives recorded rare footage of a Mafia pledge of allegiance. The new members swear their oath in front of a gun and a suicide pill, which they vow to use should they ever be caught.

The ‘Ndrangheta also use their own cryptic messaging system. Authorities recently discovered the organization’s “Rosetta Stone,” a red notebook found in the house of a mobster after a raid. The notebook was so important that even Mafia informants refused to translate it. Eventually, codebreakers were able to crack it. The ensuing arrests dealt a blow to the Mafia, but their wounds heal fast.

6. Honor Killers


The ‘Ndrangheta strictly adhere to old-school, underworld values of honor and loyalty. Their name comes from a Greek word meaning “courage” or “loyalty.”

In March 2006, Giovanni Morabito, nephew of a godfather known as “Joe Go-ahead,” turned himself in to police after having shot his sister in the face. It was an honor shooting. Giovanni’s sister had separated from her husband and become pregnant by a police officer. She survived the gunshot to her face but was only able to communicate by nodding.

Despite these loyalties, the ‘Ndrangheta are prone to interclan feuds. In 1985, disagreements over one clan’s growing power led to the second ‘Ndrangheta war. After six years and more than 600 deaths, there was no clear winner in sight.

The godfathers of ‘Ndrangheta convened a summit to resolve the feud. High-ranking members of La Cosa Nostra also attended. Following La Cosa Nostra’s advice, the ‘Ndrangheta formed a loose council to mediate disputes. They talked things out, and the war ended.

5.The Mountain Sanctuary


Deep in the heart of the Aspromonte mountains lies the Sanctuary of Santa Maria di Polsi (“Our Lady of the Mountain“), which was built in 1144 at the bottom of a gorge. Every September, thousands of Catholics make a pilgrimage to the sanctuary to view a statue of the Virgin Mary. Then they carry it in a procession.

This annual festival is actually a repackaged pagan ritual. In place of Mary, they once worshiped the Greek goddess Persephone. Today, the revelers still sacrifice goats and dance in a frenzy.

Against this backdrop, the ‘Ndrangheta bosses meet each September to discuss business strategies and smooth over any feuds. They elect a leader to oversee the assembly, but this person is a mediator, not a boss.

The Italian government decided to build an anti-Mafia community center near the shrine to counter mob influence. The ‘Ndrangheta secured the construction contracts for the community center and profited immenselyfrom building it.

4. The ‘Ndrangheta vs. The Pope

Image result for pope excommunicates mafia picImage: Holy Irony

Mobsters consider themselves devout Catholics. Upon promotion, they dedicate themselves to a life of crime by swearing on the Bible. They also have chapels in their underground bunkers. Clergymen have supported them, testifying as character witnesses for mobsters on trial. Pope Benedict XVI even baptized the daughter of a high-ranking ‘Ndrangheta at St. Peter’s. In addition, the Vatican Bank has been part of money-laundering schemesfor Mafias in the past.

But things may have changed under Pope Francis. In June 2014, the Pope traveled to Calabria to mourn the loss of Coco Campolongo, a boy killed by mobsters. Coco was born into the Mafia, and he had been caught in the cross fire of his grandfather’s assassination. Coco’s charred, bullet-riddled body was found beside his grandfather’s in a burned-out vehicle.

Pope Francis had asked the murderers to come forward and repent. When no one did, he denounced all Mafia members, saying, “The ‘Ndrangheta are the adoration of evil and contempt for the common good. Mafiosi are not in communion with God. They are excommunicated!”

Francis was the first Pope to excommunicate the Mafia, and the full ramifications are not yet known. In 1993, Saint Pope John Paul II had denounced the Sicilian Mafia, becoming the first Pope to even use the word “Mafia” in public. La Cosa Nostra bombed churches in retaliation, but many mafiosi reformed, becoming informants.

In the wake of their excommunication, the ‘Ndrangheta have been quiet, although they may not take the Pope’s word as law. A Vatican spokesperson said that official excommunication involves a formal legal process.

3.The Supreme

3-pasquale-condelloPhoto credit: Luigi Palamara via YouTube

The businesslike ‘Ndrangheta go to great lengths to avoid detection. Despite the wealth of the mobsters, Calabria is something of a wasteland. The low-level drug runners drive their BMWs through the rundown streets of Calabrian villages. However, the older gangsters are much more careful. The exteriors of their houses look decrepit, with rotting porches and peeling paint. But walk through the front door, and you’ll see opal floors and chandeliers.

The bosses are the most careful, leaving little to chance. They live away from society in caves and in genuine poverty—billionaires in rags. However, they do tend to “live it up” when they travel abroad.

Pasquale Condello is a legendary godfather known as “Il Supremo.” He was the ringleader of the young group that took control of the ‘Ndrangheta in 1975. Pasquale led them to become kidnappers and global drug dealers.

Authorities had been hunting him for 40 years but couldn’t find him. In 2008, they narrowed his cover to 12 suspects in Reggio Calabria. Was he the priest? The blind man? After a two-week stakeout, authorities moved in on all 12. They found Pasquale in an apartment guarded by his nephew and son-in-law. With cool detachment, he admitted his identity and went to jail.

Pasquale Condello is just one head of the ‘Ndrangheta hydra. More heads keep springing up.

2. The Maple Mafia


In September 2015, Italian authorities secretly recorded the conversations of Vincenzo Crupi, a Toronto-based ‘Ndrangheta who had flown back to Italy for the annual meeting at the sanctuary. The wiretaps were obtained while setting up a sting code-named Maple Crupi.

In the recordings, Crupi warns a friend that Toronto may be on the brink of a mob war. Tensions between the Canadian ‘Ndrangheta clans had risen ever since the unsolved murder of Carmine Verduci, a suspected Mafia hit man. He was shot to death outside a sports bar in a Toronto suburb.

Canadian reporters from the National Post reached out to the RCMP anti-Mafia division. One officer said to them, “People seem to be getting along. Everyone is shaking hands and kissing each other. It is either really good or really bad.” He hopes the clans have worked out their differences.

The ‘Ndrangheta have chosen Toronto as a second home because of its favorable banking laws. Canadian banks don’t ask where the money comes from. Toronto is also near the border. The ‘Ndrangheta have been smuggling drugs from Canada into the US since the early 1900s.

1. Rotting Money


The ‘Ndrangheta’s tentacles reach beyond Italy and Canada. Their operation involves 60,000 people with 400 key operatives in 30 countries. They are responsible for 80 percent of the cocaine flow through Europe. They even built a submarine to smuggle cocaine out of Colombia. Aside from drugs, extortion, usury, embezzlement, gambling, prostitution, smuggling people, and counterfeiting goods, they also make money from legitimate business practices.

After strict environmental laws took effect in the 1980s, the ‘Ndrangheta made a killing from discreetly disposing of toxic waste for penny-pinching corporations. They filled ships with barrels of toxic waste, sailed the barrels out to sea, and sank them. Authorities believe there could be as many as 32 of these ships at the bottom of the Mediterranean. Other times, the Mafia sailed these ships to Somalia. The Somalis buried the toxic waste in exchange for guns.

The ‘Ndrangheta have so much money that it is literally rotting in the ground. Police wiretapped two mobsters who had gone to retrieve a stash of money in a forest. As they dug the money out of the ground, one said, “Millions are rotting because of the humidity.”

The other replied, “Just throw them away.”


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