‘Ndrangheta: Book on the Calabrian Cancer. – Politics

‘Ndrangheta: Book on the Calabrian Cancer.  – Politics

The Calabrian mafia, called ‘Ndrangheta, is considered the most powerful criminal organization in Europe with branches on all continents of the world. Their business areas range from the cocaine trade to usury and construction speculation, their annual turnover is conservatively estimated at more than 50 billion euros. Italian investigators warn that the clans are in the process of undermining the legal economy and even politics in Germany and other industrialized countries. At the same time, there is something archaic and mysterious about the ‘Ndrangheta. Your power center is at the toe of the Italian boot, in one of the poorest regions of Europe. Here she performs her initiation rites with blood, fire and holy pictures. Here their most powerful families reside in dreary villages like San Luca or Platì.

This balancing act between global criminal financial and economic holding and quasi-religious local blood brotherhood is confusing and fascinating at the same time. It is all the more astonishing that there are hardly any books about it in German. But it is one of them Secrets of Success of the ‘Ndranghetato stay under the radar of public attention.

The Dutch journalist Sanne de Boer tries to direct light into this black hole. Skilfully, almost palatable, she enters the complex topic with her personal story. In 2006, the young woman bought a dilapidated house in a Calabrian village for little money. “I was unaware of any ‘Ndrangheta and surrendered to the scent of hand-picked oranges, the warmth of wood-burning stoves and the views of deep green mountains and bright blue seas,” she writes. Soon after, six people are murdered in front of an Italian restaurant in distant Duisburg. The trail of the perpetrators follows Calabria, to the ‘Ndrangheta. And Sanne de Boer begins to take an interest in the phenomenon.

“Like a tribe with its own religion”

Of course, in her place she encounters reassurance or silence. Then one night, a neighbor’s car caught fire. A suspected village boss is arrested. And the Dutch journalist digs into her research on the ‘Ndrangheta, “which fascinated me more and more.”

The result is a book that gives an easy-to-read, sometimes excitingly told insight into the world of the Calabrian mafia. De Boer tells the story of powerful bosses like Mommo Piromalli, of tragic ‘Ndrangheta dropouts like Maria Concetta Cacciola and of the death-defying entrepreneur Gaetano Saffioti. She speaks to prosecutors in Calabria, to the priest of the Polsi sanctuary, which is treasured by the ‘Ndrangheta, and to key witness Luigi Bonaventura. And she conveys how people are drawn into the mafia. “The ‘Ndrangheta are like a tribe with their own religion and lifestyle,” says Bonaventura. “As a child, you are brought up and indoctrinated accordingly.”

The Political Book: Major Trial: Courtroom in Lamezia Terme, where the trial of members of the 'Ndrangheta was due to start in 2021.

Major trial: courtroom in Lamezia Terme, where the trial against members of the ‘Ndrangheta was to start in 2021.

(Photo: Gianluca Chininea/AFP)

De Boer resists the danger of caricaturing Calabria as a gloomy den of robbers. Anyone who knows the region will agree with the author when she describes the exceptional hospitality of the people there. She also explains in an understandable way how an insufficiently caring state sometimes drives the citizens of the Mezzogiorno into the arms of the criminal syndicates. Be it to get a place in the hospital for the father, a job for the daughter or a quick loan for your own business.

More than a gloomy den of robbers

Despite all the clarity and reflection, de Boer’s book seems unstructured and fragmentary in parts. The personal point of view that dominates the first third gradually falls away later on. Some chapters with reports or research talks are too abruptly next to each other. And some stories don’t quite fit into a book about the ‘Ndrangheta, such as the one about the Sicilian anti-Cosa Nostra fighter Peppino Impastato or about the Refugee reception in the town of Riace. More concentration and deepening would have been more productive.

Despite these weaknesses, the reader learns much about the ‘Ndrangheta. He reads about the complicated structure of this mafia with their families, management levels and their networking with the world of business, politics and administration. At the same time, it becomes clear how strongly the ‘Ndrangheta groups around the world are tied to the old families in their Calabrian villages.

The Political Book: The Murder of Duisburg: Flowers lie in front of the bar in 2006 "Since Bruno" in Duisburg.  Five of the six victims of the mafia attack come from San Luca in Calabria.

The Duisburg murder: Flowers lie in front of the “Da Bruno” bar in Duisburg in 2006. Five of the six victims of the mafia attack come from San Luca in Calabria.

(Photo: Federico Gambarini/dpa)

The central concern of de Boers is to shake things up. She describes how the criminal organization since the Duisburg murders pursued a strategy of silence to lull the public and law enforcement. It would be convenient for the ‘Ndrangheta to appear as an exotic southern folk phenomenon. It has been laundering its billions in profits from the cocaine trade with South America, which it dominates, in northern European countries for years. It invests in restaurants and hotels, makes businesses dependent on itself with loans and takes over many companies. At the same time, she establishes contacts with politicians and officials in order to manipulate public tenders and get orders. Increasingly, the ‘Ndrangheta is not opposed to the state and society, but into them. “The mafia is growing like a cancerous tumor within a body,” the author quotes Italian public prosecutor Antonio De Bernardo as saying. It “grows and thrives precisely because it is part of society”.

Hamburg cocaine hub

Italian investigators throw theirs German colleagues and German politicians for decades to be naive about the ‘Ndrangheta. Too strict rules on the burden of proof, on data protection or no upper limit for cash transactions made the fight against the mafia more difficult. In Italy, it is easier to confiscate illegally acquired assets and prosecute criminals for membership in the Mafia. De Boer supports these accusations and laments “that outside of Italy, Germany is the most important European country for the ‘Ndrangheta.”

The Political Book: Sanne de Boer: 'Ndrangheta.  How the most powerful mafia in Europe determines our lives.  Aufbau Verlag, Berlin 2022. 350 pages, 25 euros.

Sanne de Boer: ‘Ndrangheta. How the most powerful mafia in Europe determines our lives. Aufbau Verlag, Berlin 2022. 350 pages, 25 euros.

(Photo: construction)

That might be true. What is not discussed, however, is that restrictions on criminal prosecution are not only based on a lack of awareness of the dangers. In Germany – also considering the experiences in the Third Reich – the presumption of innocence, data protection or the confidentiality of investigations are heavily weighted. This sometimes makes action against the ‘Ndrangheta more difficult than in Italy. But the end does not justify all means, especially in criminal prosecution.

Better cooperation between the judicial authorities

In addition, the German judiciary the problem ‘Ndrangheta at least to be taken seriously today. This is reflected in statements from Italy. The central anti-mafia authority Direzione Investigativa Antimafia (DIA) in Rome writes in its current report to parliament that the police authorities of both countries work closely together and quickly exchange information about the mafia. Large amounts of drugs and money were confiscated. The DIA report also describes how necessary this cooperation is: “Because of its central location, Germany has become an important hub for drug trafficking with South America.” The port of Hamburg in particular plays a major role. In addition, clans from San Luca are pushing hard into the German economy.

Sanne de Boer’s book also conveys that a globally operating mafia can only be contained through international cooperation. And that Germans or Dutch shouldn’t do the ‘Ndrangheta the favor of overlooking them.

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