The trial against the crime syndicate and its accomplices – among them politicians, civil servants, police and white-collar businessmen – is expected to last more than two years.

With 355 defendants, over 900 prosecution witnesses and 400 lawyers, the trial also features an unprecedented 58 state witnesses ready to break their code of silence and expose the clan’s long-hidden secrets.

Held inside a specially outfitted building in the heart of ‘Ndrangheta territory in Calabria, Italy’s poorest region, the trial beginning on Wednesday targets just one group: the Mancuso family and its affiliates.

During a recent hearing, it took three hours just to read the names of the defendants, which include boss Luigi Mancuso, “The Uncle” – who spent nearly 20 years in prison before going underground – and dozens of others with nicknames like “The Wolf”, “Fatty”, “Sweetie”, “Blondie”, “Little Goat”, and “The Wringer”.

Most of the defendants were swept up in a series of orchestrated pre-dawn raids in December 2019, resulting in arrests throughout Italy and in Germany, Switzerland and Bulgaria.

Allegations include mafia association, murder and attempted murder, drug trafficking, extortion, loan sharking, disclosure of official secrets, abuse of office, possession of stolen goods and money laundering.

It is a serious blow for the Calabrian mafia, which has an estimated turnover of €40 billion to €50 billion and uses strong links with Latin American drug cartels to import cocaine through ports such as Rotterdam, and Albanian and Turkish gangs to transport it to market.

Taking to the court will be Italy’s most famous anti-mafia prosecutor, Nicola Gratteri, who has lived under police escort for more than 30 years.

As a child, the 62-year-old Calabrian played football with many of those he put behind bars decades later.

He has vowed to take down “this asphyxiating ‘Ndrangheta, which truly takes the breath and the heartbeat from the people”.

The trial’s size is only eclipsed by Italy’s first “maxi-trial” of 1986-1987 in Palermo against Sicily’s Cosa Nostra and its web of connected families.

That now-legendary event saw 338 people convicted. 

Local mafia later assasinated prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.