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Hundreds in dock at largest mafia clan trial since 1980s

Mobbed: Case with 355
defendants is having to
be held at a converted
call centre PICTURE: EPA

ONE of Italy’s largest-ever mafia trials has begun, with 355 suspected mobsters and their associates on charges including extortion, drug trafficking and theft.

The case targets the Mancuso clan, part of the ’Ndrangheta group that is considered to be the most powerful mafia in the country. Those on trial in Calabria include alleged clan boss Luigi Mancuso (pictured), 66.

A call centre in the city of Lamezia Terme has been converted into a courthouse, with defendants placed in metal cages and rows of desks set up for the hundreds of lawyers, journalists and spectators expected to attend.

Many of the accused are white-collar workers — including lawyers, accountants, business figures, politicians and policemen — charged with helping the clan build its crime empire.

Chief prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, who has spent more than 30 years fighting the mob, said: ‘In the last two years we have seen a surge in lawsuits from oppressed entrepreneurs and citizens, victims of usury, people who for years have lived under the threats of the ’Ndrangheta.’

The state will call on 913 witnesses and draw on 24,000 hours of intercepted conversations to support the myriad charges being brought in a case expected to take a year.

Another 92 suspects have opted for a fast-track trial, with their hearings due to start later this month.

A smaller group of defendants will stand trial in February over five murders, including that of a hitman allegedly shot dead because he was gay.

The last time Italy tried hundreds of alleged mafiosi simultaneously was in 1986 in Palermo, Sicily.

The case represented a turning point in the fight against the notorious Cosa Nostra crime organisation.