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Over 200 convicted in relation to Italy's most powerful mafia group

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

In Italy, more than 200 people were convicted in a trial against one of the country's most powerful organized crime syndicates, the 'Ndrangheta. The defendants included members of the organization itself, but also people charged with aiding its criminal activities - politicians, businessmen, police. The trial took years to litigate. And to understand its impact, we called up Antonio Nicaso. He researches organized crime and lectures at Queen's University in Canada. When we spoke, I asked him to describe the 'Ndrangheta and how they compare to other organized crime in Italy.

ANTONIO NICASO: Less known than the Sicilian Mafia, this organization is much richer and more powerful. Its annual turnover is estimated at around 55 billion euros, and it controls a significant portion of the cocaine that arrives in Europe. This trial show how deeply rooted 'Ndrangheta is, as well as its connection with the politicians, police officer, businessmen and professionals.

SUMMERS: And these convictions specifically, what's the significance of them?

NICASO: It's significant because they control territory. They sell and provide illegal goods and services, and they are well-connected. And so it's important because you uncover the link of this organization with important people outside of the organization.

SUMMERS: What does this development say about how entrenched the Mafia is in Italy present day?

NICASO: This is a trial that confirm that Italy has this major problem since at least 1860. And this is a problem that, unfortunately, is not a priority in Italy in the political agenda. This criminal organization was able to adapt to many situation, and now they explore cyberspace. They use cryptocurrency. They mining cryptocurrency, and they invested the money worldwide. And I can say that the money of the 'Ndrangheta is a structural component of the global capitalism. And also, they are changing strategy. They are not using the violence like they used to do. So they try to keep a low profile to invest money worldwide, and that's more difficult. This is more difficult in - it's difficult to build a strategy to uncover all the link that they have with lawyers, with charter accountant, with the financial consultant that help them to identify the best place where they should invest the proceeds of crime.

SUMMERS: Will this most recent round of convictions do anything to stop the Mafia there?

NICASO: They need more than a trial to stop the Mafia. They must free the territories from fear and need - that they need to invest more money in education. They need to invest more money in jobs, building a sense of trust in institution. I don't think with the handcuffs and sentencing you can dismantle a criminal organization deeply rooted in Italy. So they need more than a trial.

SUMMERS: That was Antonio Nicaso who lectures at Queen's University in Canada. Thank you.

NICASO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kai McNamee
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Juana Summers
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.