Anton Monti is a Finnish-Italian journalist and author who has written an excellent book on the mysterious Italian mafia organization known as “‘Ndrangheta”. The book has not yet been translated into English, but let’s hope this interview does its small part in changing that. You might hasten the process by requesting it through a publishing company of your liking.
Than you, Mr. Monti, for taking the time to talk to ForenSeek!
Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself!
I am an Italian-Finnish author of non-fiction books. I have lived part of my life in Italy. In past I have written books on political terrorism in Italy and now I am interested in writing about Italian mafias.
How did you become interested in the ‘Ndrangheta?
The ‘Ndrangheta is perhaps the least known mafia operating in Italy and around the world. At the same time it is by far the largest in terms of both members (60 000) and turnover (60-80 billions per year). I was mainly interested because of this “invisibility” of the ‘ndrangheta. I was also very interested in the mixture of archaic and ultramodern which is one of the main characteristics of the ‘Ndrangheta.
In your own, expert’s words: what is the ‘Ndrangheta? What does that term refer to?
The term comes from Greek language, specifically from the compound word “androsagathos” which means “man of valor”. However, we must bear in mind that the members of this mafia never make use of this term which is instead widespread in the media and outside the criminal association.
Some people think that there is one, monolithic “Mafia” in Italy, but this is actually not true, as you point out in your book – in reality, there are “local” factions of organized crime. Tell us a bit about this!
In Italy we have four mafias that are officially recognized by Italian law: Cosa Nostra in Sicily, the Camorra in Naples, the Sacra Corona Unita in Puglia and the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria. Each of these mafias has its own history, a structure different from the others, and of course also a specific criminal activity.
The ‘Ndrangheta have a long history in Italy. Tell us a bit about it!
The first official documents concerning the existence in Calabria of a criminal organization such as ‘Ndrangheta date back to the 1860’s. Already in the 1890’s large trials were held in the region which had as defendants hundreds of people suspected of being part of the Calabrian mafia.
Significantly, many of the surnames of defendants from 130 years ago are the same as those in today’s trials.
The organization has all kinds of hierarchies. How are these hierarchies structured?
The ‘Ndrangheta is structured more as a secret society than as a criminal organization. Therefore, its structure is difficult to understand.
Basically, it is based on the patriarchal family. The head of the basic form of the ‘Ndrangheta is the oldest male in a certain family. The ‘Ndrangheta families then unite in the ‘Ndrangheta ‘locale’ which needs seven families and 49 members to be formed. The members are divided into three hierarchical levels: picciotto, camorrista and sgarrista. Above this basic structure exists a secret upper level called La Santa, which is a real secret society.
The ‘Ndrangheta, unlike Cosa Nostra, has a horizontal structure where ‘locales’ or individual families can form cartels for specific projects and then separate again. This makes extremely difficult for investigators to understand what is the true structure of the ‘Ndrangheta.
They even have songs related to their history, as crazy as that sounds. Tell us a bit about this aspect!
The ‘Ndrangheta is part of the daily life of Calabria and therefore also of its popular culture. The songs of the ‘Ndrangheta differ greatly from, for example, the trap or neo-melodic culture of the Neapolitan Camorra. They are basically folk songs of an agrarian and archaic world.
The ‘Ndrangheta are also known to have all kinds of rituals and codes. Can you elaborate a bit on these?
As I said, the ‘Ndrangheta is basically a secret society. As in any secret society, rituals, exotery and secret forms of codified communication play a very important role. These rituals are part of the identity of the ‘Ndrangheta members and are taken very seriously by the members of this mafia.
In other Italian mafias, the only ritual that exists is that of baptism. In the ‘Ndrangheta, on the other hand, there are dozens of rituals that are followed and performed to the letter. This kind of mania for rituals is a strong point of the ‘Ndrangheta for which rules are everything.
What kinds of businesses do they make their money in?
At the local level, in Calabria, the ‘Ndrangheta basically operates at every level of daily life. Its revenues come both from the protection of commercial activities and increasingly from the direct exercise of business. Of course, the use of Italian and European public funds directed to Calabria is also part of the political power of the ‘Ndrangheta. Globally, the ‘Ndrangheta is the leading cocaine trader. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) claimed in June 2022 that the ‘Ndrangheta controls 80% of the cocaine world market.
We have to be very careful. Over the last few years, the ‘Ndrangheta has become a kind of platform or portal, if you like, for the trafficking of cocaine. It manages to outsource almost every function to external criminal gangs and at the same time to control the entire production, logistics and commercial structure. The ‘Ndrangheta can create, for example, alliances with the Primeiro Comando da Capital in South America or with Albanian families that control ports in Europe.
They have spread their criminal ventures outside of Italy as well. As most of my readers are in the US, let me ask you, what are they involved in in the United States?
The ‘Ndrangheta operates on all continents. In particular in those countries where the presence of Calabrian immigrants is greater. This does not mean that all Calabrians are members of mafia, it means that the ‘Ndrangheta goes to where there are cultures that it knows.
In the case of North America, the ‘Ndrangheta is particularly present in Canada, much more than in the United States. However, we know of the existence of a ‘Ndrangheta ‘locale’ in New York. But I think that the United States is more a place for money laundering and financial activities than for crime in the strict sense. This of course is very dangerous because it means an infiltration of criminals into legal economy.
Are the Italian Police a formidable adversary for the ‘Ndrangheta? Have the police been able to fight back in any substantial way?
I think the main problem is the vastness of the ‘Ndrangheta phenomenon. In Italy there are around 60,000 members of the ‘Ndrangheta. The Italian prison capacity is, in total, 50,000 places – which are already all occupied. I think this explains a lot. As well as the difficulty, for example, of controlling such a high number of people in a context that is often very closed, like that of Calabria.
The Italian police can occasionally obtain concrete results, but the defeat of the ‘Ndrangheta in toto is something that cannot be done through the police. An Italian parliamentary commission wrote that the ‘Ndrangheta is a structural part of Calabria’s society. In essence, without it, its economic power and social control, Calabrian society would collapse.
What do Italians think about the organization? Is there any strong resistance against them from the public?
I think that Italians know very little about the ‘Ndrangheta. In Calabria there is no widespread opposition to the mafia phenomenon on the part of civil society. Indeed, it would seem that the ‘Ndrangheta enjoys a certain social consensus. A very significant problem is that of entrepreneurs who turn to the ‘Ndrangheta to obtain financing and forms of partnership. In this way, crime enters the legal economy circuit and manages to become a subject capable of creating work, of having financial power and of increasing its own consensus.
Italy is a beautiful country with great people; I’ve been there myself. If someone reading this wants to travel there, would you say there are any areas they should avoid due to a presence from the ‘Ndrangheta? Do they leave tourists and regular people alone?
The areas controlled by the mafias are generally areas where petty crime does not have much space. The mafias do not want problems in their territories that could attract the attention of the police. Paradoxically, therefore, the areas with a high mafia presence are generally safe areas for tourists.
Your excellent book on the organization has been released in Finnish. Can people write somewhere and request it to be translated into English?
My literary agent is of course constantly looking for publishing houses outside of Finland interested in the book.
What are you currently working on?
I am working for a audiobook series for Storytel / TrueStory about the four Italian mafias. We have already published the first two parts regarding Cosa Nostra and the Camorra and the other two will be out shortly. Storytel is a platform that operates in numerous languages, so I am convinced that audiobook series may also be available in other languages.
Where can people keep up with you? A personal website, social media?
Personally, I use Twitter, where in particular I write about Italian news and of course about issues related to crime and mafias. Of course, I read all direct messages.
And finally, my regular questions to all my interviewees.
Your top 3 album?
Geolier – Emanuele (Marchio registrato)
Gustav Mahler – Symphony No.2 (directed by Otto Klemperer)
Ultravox – Rage in Eden
Your top 3 books?
Fyodor Dostoevsky – Crime and Punishment
Vasily Grossman – Life and Fate
Giancarlo De Cataldo – Romanzo criminale
Your top 3 films?
Sergio Leone – Duck, You Sucker
Sergio Leone – Once Upon a Time in America
Sam Peckinpah – The Wild Bunch