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Five things to know about Italy's 'Ndrangheta mafia

The group has only been classed as mafia under Italian law since 2010, but it dates back at least to the unification of Italy in 1861.

Lawyers leave the so-called "Bunker Room" courtroom on January 13, 2021 on the opening day of the 'Rinascita-Scott' maxi-trial in which more than 350 alleged members of Calabria's 'Ndrangheta mafia group and their associates go on trial in Lamezia Terme, Calabria. Picture: Gianluca Chininea / AFP

ROME - The 'Ndrangheta, rooted in the southern region of Calabria, has surpassed Sicily's more famous Cosa Nostra to become Italy's most powerful mafia group, which operates across the world.

Here are five things to know about the organised crime group:

ORIGINS

Criminologist Anna Sergi, of the University of Essex in England, says the group's name has Greek origins -- the word "andranghateia" refers to a "feat of bravery", and "andrangatho" means "to do military actions".

The group has only been classed as mafia under Italian law since 2010, but it dates back at least to the unification of Italy in 1861.

It came to public prominence in the 1980s and 1990s in a series of kidnappings across Italy, and affiliates are believed to have been responsible for kidnapping oil tycoon John Paul Getty's grandson.

MAIN ACTIVITIES

Judge Roberto Di Bella, who has almost 30 years of experience in the methods of the Calabrian mob, describes the 'Ndrangheta as "perhaps the most powerful criminal organisation in the world, but certainly the most diffuse, and present on five continents".

Its activities have expanded well beyond those typical of organised crime groups -- drug trafficking, extortion, illegal waste trafficking and money laundering -- to infiltrate practically all areas of public life in Calabria, while using shell companies to invest in the legitimate economy worldwide.

But what makes the 'Ndrangheta different from other mafia groups is its family structure -- it is based on blood ties, which makes it "very reliable, because there are few turncoats", Di Bella told AFP.

This is one of the reasons why Colombian or Mexican drugs producers have used the 'Ndrangheta to sell in Europe.

"The enormous flow of money that comes from drugs allows the 'Ndrangheta to buy everything -- businesses, restaurants -- to pollute the economy not just of Italy but of many other countries in the world," he said.

HOW MUCH IS IT WORTH?

The 'Ndrangheta's true make-up and wealth are difficult to establish but authorities believe there are some 150 'Ndrangheta families in Calabria and at least 6,000 members and affiliates in the region, with thousands more worldwide.

Nicola Gratteri, a leading prosecutor in Calabria, estimates the group generates an annual turnover of more than 50 billion euros ($61 billion) -- much of it from cocaine trafficking.

GERMAN MASSACRE

The activities of the 'Ndrangheta were thrown into the spotlight in a massacre outside a pizzeria in the German town of Duisburg in 2007.

Six rival clan members were killed as part of a long-running feud between families from the town of Calabria's San Luca. Sixteen people have been killed in fighting between the families in the 'Ndrangheta bastion since the 1990s.

MAXI-TRIAL

The 'Ndrangheta has always operated under the radar but more than 350 alleged members and accomplices went on trial this week in what prosecutors hope will be a major blow against the group.

Arrested in a series of orchestrated raids across Italy and other European countries in December 2019, the defendants face allegations from murder and attempted murder to money laundering, drug trafficking and abuse of office.

There are more than 900 prosecution witnesses and 400 lawyers taking part in the process, which could last years and required the establishment of a makeshift court in a former call centre building in the Calabrian town of Lamezia Terme.

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