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The Calabrian 'Ndrangheta (from the Greek word andragathía for heroism and virtue — "The Honoured Society"), pronounced [nˈdraŋɡeta], is one of the most powerful and ruthless organized crime organizations in Italy. It is not as famous abroad as the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, and has remained more rural compared to the Neapolitan Camorra and the Apulian Sacra corona unita. While commonly lumped together with the Sicilian Mafia, the 'Ndrangheta operates independently from the Sicilians, though there is contact between the two due to the geographical closeness of Calabria and Sicily.


 Italian anti-organized crime agencies estimated in 2007 that the 'Ndrangheta has annual revenue of about € 35-40 billion (50-60 billion USD), which amounts to approximately 3.5% of the GDP of Italy.[1][2] This comes mostly from illegal drug trafficking, but also from ostensibly legal businesses such as construction, restaurants and supermarkets.[3]

 There are approximately 100 of these families, totaling between 4,000 and 5,000 members in Italy.[3] Most of the groups (86) operate in the province of Reggio Calabria, although a portion of the recorded 70 criminal groups based in the Calabrian provinces Catanzaro and Cosenza also appears to be formally affiliated with the 'Ndrangheta.[4] The families are concentrated in poor villages in Calabria such as Platì, Locri, San Luca, Africo and Altomonte as well as the main city and provincial capital Reggio Calabria[5]. San Luca is considered to be the stronghold of the 'Ndrangheta. According to a former 'ndranghetista, "almost all the male inhabitants belong to the 'Ndrangheta, and the Sanctuary of Polsi has long been the meeting place of the affiliates." [6] Bosses from outside Calabria, from as far as Canada and Australia, regularly attend the meetings at the Sanctuary of Polsi.[4]

 The 'Ndrangheta has had a remarkable ability to establish branches abroad, mainly through migration. The worldwide membership is estimated to be 10,000.[7] The overlap of blood and mafia family seems to have helped the 'Ndrangheta expand beyond its traditional territory: "The familial bond has not only worked as a shield to protect secrets and enhance security, but also helped to maintain identity in the territory of origin and reproduce it in territories where the family has migrated". 'Ndrine are reported to be operating in northern Italy, Germany, Belgium, Holland, France, Eastern Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia.[4] One group of 'ndranghetistas to have been discovered outside of Italy was in Ontario, Canada, several decades ago. They were dubbed the Siderno Group by Canadian judges as most of its members hailed from Siderno.

Prosecution in Calabria is hindered by the fact that Italian judges and prosecutors who score highly in exams get to choose their posting; those who are forced to work in Calabria will usually request to be transferred right away. With weak government presence and corrupt officials, few civilians are willing to speak out against the organization.

Organisational structure

Both the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and the 'Ndrangheta are loose confederations of about one hundred mafia groups, also called cosche or families, each of which claims sovereignty over a territory, usually a town or village, though without ever fully conquering and legitimizing its monopoly of violence.[9]

The principal difference with the Mafia is in recruitment methods. 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. There are relatively few Calabrians who have opted out to become a pentito; at the end of 2002, there were 157 Calabrian witnesses in the state witness protection program.[8] Unlike the Sicilian Mafia in the early 1990s, they have scrupulously avoided a head-on confrontation with the Italian state.

A 'Ndrangheta crime family is called a locale (place). A locale may have branches, called 'ndrina (plural: 'ndrine), in the districts of the same city, in neighbouring towns and villages, or even outside Calabria, in cities and towns in the industrial North of Italy in and around Turin and Milan. Sometimes sotto 'ndrine are established. These subunits enjoy a high degree of autonomy – they have a leader and independent staff. In some contexts the 'ndrine have become more powerful than the locale on which they formally depend.[6] Other observers maintain that the 'ndrina is the basic organizational unit. Each 'ndrina is "autonomous on its territory and no formal authority stands above the " 'ndrina boss", according to the Antimafia Commission. The 'ndrina is usually in control of a small town or a neighborhood. If more than one 'ndrina operates in the same town, they form a locale.[4]

Blood family and membership of the crime family overlap to a great extent within the 'Ndrangheta. By and large, the 'ndrine consist of men belonging to the same family lineage. Salvatore Boemi, Anti-mafia prosecutor in Reggio Calabria, told the Italian Antimafia Commission that "one becomes a member for the simple fact of being born in a mafia family," although other reasons might attract a young man to seek membership, and non-kin have also been admitted. Marriages help cement relations within each 'ndrina and to expand membership. As a result, a few blood families constitute each group, hence "a high number of people with the same last name often end up being prosecuted for membership of a given 'ndrina." Indeed, since there is no limit to the membership of a single unit, bosses try to maximize descendants.[4]

Power structure

For many years, the power apparatuses of the single families were the sole ruling bodies within the two associations, and they have remained the real centers of power even after superordinate bodies were created in the Cosa Nostra beginning in the 1950s (the Sicilian Mafia Commission) and in the 'Ndrangheta a superordinate body was created only in 1991 as the result of negotiations to end years of inter family violence.[9]

Unlike the Sicilian Mafia, the 'Ndrangheta managed to maintain a horizontal organizational structure up to the early 1990s, avoiding the establishment of a formal superordinate body. Information of several witnesses has undermined the myth of absolute autonomy of Calabrian crime families, however. At least since the end of the 19th century, stable mechanisms for coordination and dispute settlement were created. Contacts and meetings among the bosses of the locali were frequent.[10]

At least since the 1950s, the chiefs of the 'Ndrangheta locali have met regularly near the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Polsi in the municipality of San Luca during the September Feast. These annual meetings, known as the crimine, have traditionally served as a forum to discuss future strategies and settle disputes among the locali. The assembly exercises weak supervisory powers over the activities of all 'Ndrangheta groups. Strong emphasis was placed on the temporary character of the position of the crimine boss. A new representative was elected at each meeting.[10] Far from being the "boss of the bosses," the capo crimine actually has comparatively little authority to interfere in family feuds or to control the level of interfamily violence.[4]

At these meetings, every boss "must give account of all the activities carried out during the year and of all the most important facts taking place in his territory such as kidnappings, homicides, etc."[10] The historical preeminence of the San Luca family is such that every new group or locale must obtain its authorization to operate and every group belonging to the 'Ndrangheta "still has to deposit a small percentage of illicit proceeds to the principale of San Luca in recognition of the latter’s primordial supremacy."[6]

Security concerns have led to the creation in the 'Ndrangheta of a secret society within the secret society: the Santa. Membership in the Santa is only known to other members. Contrary to the code, it allowed bosses to establish close connections with state representatives, even to the extent that some were affiliated with the Santa. These connections were often established through the Freemasonry, which the santisti - breaking another rule of the traditional code - were allowed to join.[11][9]


According to Italian DIA (Direzione Investigativa Antimafia, Department of the Police of Italy against organized crime) and Guardia di Finanza (Italian Financial Police and Customs Police) the "'Ndrangheta is now one of the most powerful criminal organizations in the world."[citation needed] Economic activities of 'Ndrangheta include international cocaine and weapons smuggling, with Italian investigators estimating that 80% of Europe's cocaine passes through the Calabrian port of Gioia Tauro and is controlled by the 'Ndrangheta.[2] 'Ndrangeta groups and Sicilian Cosa Nostra groups sometimes act as joint ventures in cocaine trafficking enterprises.[12][13] Further activities include skimming money off large public work construction projects, money laundering and traditional crimes such as usury and extortion. 'Ndrangheta invests illegal profits in legal real estate and financial activities.

Outside Italy

Magistrates in Calabria sounded the alarm a few years ago about the international scale of the 'Ndrangheta's operations. It is now believed to have surpassed the traditional axis between the Sicilian and American Cosa Nostra, to become the major importer of cocaine to Europe.[14] Outside Italy 'Ndrangheta operates in several countries, such as:

  • Spain

  • France

  • Belgium — 'Ndrangheta clans purchased almost "an entire neighbourhood" in Brussels with laundered money originating from drug trafficking. On March 5, 2004, 47 people were arrested, accused of drug trafficking and money laundering purchasing real estate in Brussels for some 28 million euros. The activities extended to the Netherlands where large quantities of heroin and cocaine had been purchased by the Pesce-Bellocco clan from Rosarno and the Strangio clan from San Luca.[15][16]

  • Netherlands — Sebastiano Strangio allegedly lived for 10 years in The Netherlands, where he managed his contacts with Colombian cocaine cartels. He was arrested in Amsterdam on October 27, 2005.[17][18][19]

  • Germany — According to a study by the German foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), 'Ndrangheta groups are using Germany to invest cash from drugs and weapons smuggling. Profits are invested in hotels, restaurants and houses, especially along the Baltic coast and in eastern German states of Thuringia and Saxony.[20][21] A war between the two 'Ndrangheta clans Pelle-Romeo (Pelle-Vottari) and Strangio-Nirta from San Luca that had started in 1991 and resulted in several deaths spilled into Germany in 2007; six men were shot to death in front of an Italian restaurant in Duisburg on 15 August 2007.[22][23][24] (See San Luca feud.)

  • Canada — In Canada 'Ndrangheta is believed to be involved in the smuggling of unlicensed tobacco products through ties with criminal elements in cross-border Native American tribes.[25] Antonio Commisso, the alleged leader of the Siderno group, is reported to lead efforts to import "...illicit arms, explosives and drugs..."[26] Elements of 'Ndrangheta have been reported to have been present in Canada as early as 1911.[27]

  • United States

  • Colombia - 'Ndrangheta clans were closely associated to the AUC paramilitary groups which were led by son of Italian immigrants Salvatore Mancuso, who surrendered to Alvaro Uribe's government in order to avoid extradition to the USA.[28] According to Giuseppe Lumia of the Italian Parliamentary Antimafia Commission, 'Ndrangheta clans are actively involved in the production of cocaine.[29]

  • Argentina — In November 2006, a cocaine trafficking network was dismantled that operated in Argentina, Spain and Italy. The Argentinian police said the ‘Ndrangheta had roots in the country and shipped cocaine through Spain to Milan and Turin.[30]

  • Australia — Known by the name "The Honoured Society", The 'Ndrangheta controlled Italian-Australian organized crime all along the East Coast of Australia since the early 20th century. The 'Ndrangheta began in Australia in Queensland, where they continued their form of rural organized crime, especially in the fruit and vegetable industry. After the 1998–2006 Melbourne gangland killings which included the murder of 'Ndrangheta Godfather Frank Benvenuto, the Honoured Society has reportedly been expelled from Melbourne, losing its territory to the Sicilian "Carlton Crew" and the Irish Moran family.


In the folk culture surrounding 'Ndrangheta in Calabria references to the Garduna often appear. Aside from these references, however, there is nothing to substantiate a link between the two organizations. A connection is possible, though, if only through contact to the Camorra whose possible origins in the Garduna carry more substance. At any rate, the view of the 'Ndrangheta as an heir to the Garduna (which is in turn blown up to a kind of global pirate organization) has certainly existed at times in Calabrian history.[citation needed]

During the 17th century there was a secret society in Calabria that resembled but was not called 'Ndrangheta. Whether this was the seeds of 'Ndrangheta is speculation.[citation needed]

The first certain evidence of 'Ndrangheta derives from shortly after Italian unification (1861). Thus it is common to give its date of origin as being around this point. Italian unity was not immediately a positive development for southern Italy: the local populace was impoverished while squires from the north took over large southern estates and heavy taxation was imposed. In this situation 'Ndrangheta was either formed or heavily reinforced (if it already existed) by Calabrians who wanted to get even by blackmailing and robbing the rich (see also Social bandits).[citation needed]

Anti-'Ndrangheta demonstration in Locri in October 2005.
The sign writes: and now, kill us all

Until 1975, the 'Ndrangheta operated only in Calabria, mainly involved in extortion and blackmailing. Then a gang war started, killing 300 people. The prevailing faction began to kidnap rich people from northern Italy for ransom. It is believed that John Paul Getty III was one of their victims, though the kidnappers have never been caught. The "second 'Ndrangheta war" from 1985 to 1999 cost more than 700 lives. In the 1990s the organization started to invest in the illegal international drug trade, mainly importing cocaine from Colombia.[2]

Francesco Fortugno, popular center-left politician and deputy president of the regional parliament, was openly killed by the 'Ndrangheta on 16 October 2005 in Locri. Demonstrations against the organization ensued, with youthful protesters carrying banderoles of "Ammazzateci tutti!" – "Kill us all!"[31] The government started a large-scale enforcement operation in Calabria and arrested numerous 'ndranghetistas including the murderers of Fortugno.[1]

In March 2006, the national anti-Mafia prosecutor announced the discovery of a submarine in Colombia; it was being constructed on behalf of the 'Ndrangheta for smuggling cocaine. [32]

The 'Ndrangheta has recently expanded its activities to Northern Italy, mainly to sell drugs and to invest in legitimate businesses which can be used for money laundering. The mayor of Buccinasco was threatened when he tried to halt these investments; in May 2007 twenty members of 'Ndrangheta were arrested in Milan.[1]

On 30 August 2007, hundreds of police raided the small town of San Luca, the focal point of the bitter San Luca feud between rival clans among the 'Ndrangheta. Over 30 men and women, linked to the killing of six Italian men in Germany, were arrested.[33]

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