Secret Courts Uncovered Where Mobsters Face Death For Breaking Mafia Code

Carabinieri in Italy
Italian Carabinieri patrol a street in Sicily ahead of the G7 in Taormina in May 2017. More than 1,000 officers took part in an operation against the 'Ndrangheta syndicate in Calabria on July 4, 2017. Giovanni Isolino/AFP/Getty Images

Italian authorities have unveiled a network of secret courts used by mafia clans to settle feuds between rival gangs and punish those accused of breaking the strict codes of conduct in Italy's criminal underworld.

In their latest investigation against the powerful 'Ndrangheta syndicate, a police operation involving more than 1,000 officers saw 116 arrested for participation in a criminal organization, extortion, fraud and illegal posession of weapons.

The suspects belonged to 23 clans controlling the Ionic coast of the region of Calabria, in the southwest of Italy, a heartland of the syndicate that makes decisions affecting affiliated clans elsewhere in Italy and abroad.

In one telephone conversation intercepted by the police and reported in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, local boss Rocco Morabito, who was arrested in January, can be heard saying: "Here, I am the state," adding: "The original mafia, not the mediocre one".

Phone tapping also revealed how the 'Ndrangheta syndicate evolved and adapted to increased pressure from the Italian authorities, which have stepped up efforts to fight the secretive criminal organization.

This includes setting up its own courts to punish mobsters suspected of violating the mafia code of conduct and to settle rivalries and feuds among clans.

According to Italian investigators, quoted in the Italian news agency Ansa, the investigation confirmed the 'Ndrangheta's threat as a "unified and secretive structure, composed of several layers and organized hierarchically."

Though to be a century-long tradition in the 'Ndrangheta syndicate, the mafia courts are meant to protect the conspiracy of silence—"omertà" in Italian—that protects the organization and are known as "tribunali d'omertà."

The offenses covered by the courts include revealing secrets, harassing another mobster's female relatives, not punishing a clan member sufficiently or having disobeyed the orders of a leader.

Trials in the 'Ndrangheta courts are led by the clan leader. The accused has a right to defense and the final decision is taken collectively by the clan.

As documented by Italian journalist and author Sharo Gambino in his book The Mafia in Calabria, the punishments depend on the gravity of the offence.

These vary from temporary surveillance or isolation to covering the convicted person's upper body in urine and feces, to a death sentence.

Secret Courts Uncovered Where Mobsters Face Death For Breaking Mafia Code | World