The prosecutor in charge of the case has been called a “walking dead man” by some members of the mafia – but insists he will not be intimidated.
Here’s what’s involved and why it’s so important for Italy.
Who are the ‘Ndrangheta?
The group is headquartered in Calabria, in southern Italy – not far from Sicily – where it replaced the infamous Mafia as the country’s most powerful criminal group.
The ‘Ndrangheta may be based in one of Italy’s poorest regions, but it is now believed to be the richest crime syndicate in the world.
Cocaine is the fuel that fuels the organization.
It is estimated that it makes tens of billions of dollars every year importing the drug into Europe and selling it to other criminal groups.
The ‘Ndrangheta has “almost a monopoly” on European imports of cocaine, according to chief prosecutor Nicola Gratteri.
The considerable sums derived from the drug trade allowed it to expand across Europe and into countries such as North and South America.
In 2007, a feud between two clans based in the German city of Duisburg made headlines when six people were gunned down outside an Italian restaurant.
Like many mafia groups, he is also involved in activities such as forcing companies to pay money for protection, kidnappings, political corruption, murder, and forgery.
His wealth allowed him to buy legitimate businesses all over Italy to launder his money.
Historically, the word “Ndrangheta” comes from the Greek and means courage or loyalty.
The organization was formed when a group of Sicilians were banished to Calabria in the 1860s, where they founded small criminal groups.
Today, it has a similar structure with around a hundred “families” from the region managing their own piece of land.
What is the trial about and where is it taking place?
The “maxi-trial” began with an investigation of a dozen clans linked to convicted ‘Ndrangheta leader Luigi Mancuso – who prosecutors say was in charge of one of his most powerful families.
Crimes prosecuted include drug and weapons smuggling, extortion and membership in a mafia group.
Local politicians, officials, businessmen and members of secret lodges are also responsible for cooperating with the group.
Several dozen ‘Ndrangheta informants betrayed the organization and its strict code of silence, including Mancuso’s nephew, Emanuele Mancuso.
Working with the police and becoming a “pentito” is extremely rare within the ‘Ndrangheta given the deep blood ties that run through the organization.
Members of the Sicilian Mafia – perhaps eager to deal a blow to their rival – have also worked with authorities and may be called upon to testify.
Prosecutors also have thousands of wiretaps to help their case.
A “bunker” courtroom has been built on an industrial park in Lamezia Terme, Calabria, to accommodate the large number of people who will be involved.
Some 350 defendants, about 700 lawyers and almost 1,000 witnesses are expected to testify – and it could take up to two years.
The court is equipped with cages to hold the accused, row after row of chairs and numerous video monitors.
Social distancing means that even more space is needed to guard against the potential spread of the coronavirus.
The opening day of the trial took three hours to name all the defendants and lawyers, but the main man – and closest to a “godfather” figure – is Luigi Mancuso.
Known as “the uncle,” Mancuso has already spent nearly two decades in prison.
He is said to have headed one of the key families of the ‘Ndrangheta, based in the small town of Vibo Valentia.
It is the Mancusos and their associates that the lawsuit focuses on – rather than attacking the entire sprawling organization.
Other defendants in the case are said to be known by names such as “The Wolf”, “Fatty”, “Little Goat” and “The Wringer”.
Why is the case so important for Italy?
In addition to the scale of the crime involved, prosecutors hope it will be a major blow to the operations and morale of the ‘Ndrangheta.
There is also a strong emotional pull in Italy when it comes to efforts to prosecute mafia groups.
In 1992, Judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were assassinated after years of attempted destruction of the Sicilian mafia, in a case that shocked the nation and caused outrage.
Falcone, his wife and three policemen were killed by a remote control bomb on a Sicilian highway.
Two months later, Borsellino and five police officers also died in a bombing on the island.
Both had helped pave the way for the much publicized Palermo “maxi-trial” in 1986, which dealt Cosa Nostra a heavy blow by securing more than 300 convictions, including life sentences for many of the group’s leaders. .
Who is taking on the mafia this time?
Nicola Gratteri, Italy’s most prominent anti-mafia prosecutor, is overseeing the case.
He grew up in Calabria at a time of violence where he says “dozens and dozens of people were killed.”
Mr. Gratteri told Sky News he occasionally saw corpses as a child, which motivated him to devote his life to fighting the group.
Taking the case has, of course, meant big risks – the ones he’s willing to take.
“It means giving up everyday life, giving up the most trivial things, everyday things, all form of freedom,” said Mr. Gratteri.
The 62-year-old adds: “It is always worth doing what you believe in.
“Sacrifices are made if you think you are on the safe side and doing something useful for the community. ”