Encounters with the Calabrian Mafia Inside the World of the 'Ndrangheta

Francesco Sbano/ DER SPIEGEL

Part 3: Investments in Stocks and Real Estate

According to Vincenzo, the 'Ndrangheta invests in stocks and real estate. "People with no prior convictions or criminal records are often used for these purposes, and they are often financial experts who are capable of completing transactions and who sometimes have offshore channels," say BKA officials, citing Italian sources.

The BKA lists the three most powerful clans in Germany:

  • Farao. The clan is from Cirò and is primarily active in the German states of Baden-Württemberg and Hesse. Two Stuttgart restaurants often frequented by important figures from the business and political worlds are allegedly run by "important members of the 'Ndrangheta," according to the BKA.
  • Carelli. Despite a large number of arrests in the late 1990s, the clan, which is from Corigliano Calabro and is primarily active in Bavaria, is still considered to be powerful. The 'Ndrangheta killer Giorgio Basile was arrested in the Bavarian town of Kempten in 1998.
  • Romeo-Pelle-Vottari. Six members of the clan became victims of the Duisburg massacre in August 2007. The main killer, Giovanni Strangio from the rival Strangio-Nirta clan, was recently convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison in the southern Italian town of Locri. According to the BKA, the clans, based in San Luca, run 55 restaurants in the eastern German states of Saxony and Thuringia, as well as in the Ruhr region. In February 2011, the police arrested clan member Bruno Pizzata, who was being sought under an international arrest warrant, at "La Cucina," a pizzeria in the western German city of Oberhausen. The Italian media refer to Pizzata as the "king of drug dealers."

Men like Pizzata, 52, are needed to ensure that the cocaine reaches Germany. In the world of the 'Ndrangheta, with its division of labor, they are the middlemen, organizing the transport of drugs from Calabria to where they are sold.

'If They Don't Deliver, We Kill Them'

Antonio is one of these middlemen. He runs a seafood restaurant with a view of the ocean on the Tyrrhenian coast. Pictures in gold frames hang on the walls of his restaurant. "All of this," he says, waving his arm in a semi-circle, "I owe to the 'Ndrangheta."

Antonio says that he is a friend of Vincenzo. The rules for doing business with the South Americans are clear, he says: "We always pay in advance, and if they don't deliver, we kill them."

In such an unfortunate case, says Antonio, a couple of nice Italian families go to South America on vacation. During the trip, the men disappear for a while and take care of the job. Investigators whose work involves mafia drug deals believe that such talk is not bravado, but is in fact deadly serious.

Antonio often delivers to Germany. This is how he describes the way deals are handled: The customer places an order, receives a sample and pays half of the money upfront. Then the drugs are welded into cars and taken across the Alps. Antonio prefers luxury cars. "They have more room to hide cocaine and aren't that conspicuous on the road."

Meetings with the Blinds Down

Antonio isn't revealing anything Nicola Gratteri doesn't already know. Gratteri is the anti-mafia prosecutor in Reggio Calabria. The prosecutor believes that the weakness of the state is also the strength of the 'Ndrangheta. The mob bosses provide jobs, help people sort out problems with the government bureaucracy and recruit their young blood from the army of the unemployed and the hopeless. Gratteri also has no illusions about the police, which he says is already infiltrated by the 'Ndrangheta, because of close family ties.

Even though public prosecutors have had a few notable successes recently, Gratteri considers the future to be as dim as his office, where he prefers to meet with visitors with the blinds closed. As long as humankind exists, the 'Ndrangheta will also exist, he told the US consul in Naples in confidence.

Gratteri's prognosis could be correct, if only because the crime organizations are constantly and effortlessly adapting to circumstances. "Until the end of the 1990s," says Carlo over a second cappuccino in the Bavarian café, "we made 75 percent of our profits with cocaine."

But because the drug became less and less profitable and police pressure was increasing, the 'Ndrangheta had to look into new business opportunities. "We want to go to the source of government contracts and subsidies, politics," says Carlo.

Getting into Politics

A case that was uncovered in 2010 shows how the 'Ndrangheta is doing this. Italians who live in Germany have the right to vote in Italy. This prompted the Farao clan to send some of its members to Baden-Württemberg in 2008 with suitcases full of cash, which they used to buy their fellow Italians' votes in a parliamentary election.

This is how Nicola Di Girolamo, 51, a member of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom party (PDL), is believed to have gained his seat in the Senate in Rome. He was arrested in early 2010 on charges of having helped the 'Ndrangheta to launder about €2 billion through Italian telephone companies, with the help of straw men.

According to his attorney Carlo Taormina, Girolamo has since reached a settlement with the court. He will go to prison for five years and pay the government €5 million. The name of the owner of a top Stuttgart restaurant who is reportedly a member of the Farao clan also appears in the Girolamo files. His activities fill the pages of several investigative reports at the BKA.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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