The Calabrian mafia, known as the ‘Ndrangheta, has emerged as the most ruthless and deadly organised crime syndicate in Italy today following successful campaigns to curtail the influence of the Cosa Nostra in Sicily and the Camorra in Naples.

The crime syndicate is comprised of under 200 family networks and has emerged as the leading cocaine trafficker in Europe. Its reach extends far beyond southern Italy, and it is known to have a presence in Germany, the US, Australia, Switzerland, and Canada. The syndicate’s violence became front page news in 2007, when a feud within the ‘Ndrangheta ended in a bloody massacre in Germany that left six people dead.

Experts say the ‘Ndrangheta ought not to be seen as a single criminal organisation. Rather, it is a diverse web of criminal clans, some of which have international reach and are involved in sophisticated crimes like money laundering. In one 2015 case, the ‘Ndrangheta was discovered to have been laundering €2 billion through online betting companies in Malta.



The ‘Ndrangheta, based in Calabria in the far south of Italy, is now believed to be the most powerful of Italy’s four mafia organisations.

It is heavily involved in cocaine trafficking and money laundering and has criminal links around the world, particularly in Australia, Germany and Canada, as well as Italy.

Its unusual name derives from a Greek word for virtue or heroism.

Calabria was colonised by the Greeks in ancient times and some of the region’s inhabitants still speak a Greek dialect known as Griko.

The origins of the ‘Ndrangheta date back to the 1880s, and possibly a few decades before, when secret societies were established in Calabria.

The group confined its activities to Calabria until the 1970s, after which it began to kidnap for ransom rich businessmen and their relatives from northern Italy.

The organisation turned its attention to drugs in the 1990s, importing cocaine from Colombia and distributing it around Europe.

Police have found it hard to penetrate the ‘Ndrangheta because it is more family-based and tight-knit than Sicily’s Cosa Nostra. Informers and turncoats – known in Italian as ‘pentiti’ – are rare.

Recently, however, the authorities have cracked down on the group. In July last year, police conducted a massive operation in which they arrested around 300 alleged Mafiosi, dealing the organisation a major blow.

But the ‘Ndrangheta fought back, bombing the entrance to a courthouse in Reggio Calabria, sending a bullet through the mail to a prosecutor and bombing the house of a magistrate.

In October last year, a bazooka was found concealed about 200 yards from a tribunal building in Reggio Calabria in what was widely interpreted as an act of intimidation by mob bosses against the judiciary.

In the wake of the attacks, the Italian government sent in the army to guard judicial buildings the city.

The ‘Ndrangheta attracted worldwide attention in August 2007 when six presumed Mafiosi were gunned down as they left a birthday party at an Italian pizza restaurant in Duisburg, western Germany.

The massacre was part of a long-running vendetta between two rival clans.

Italy’s Eurispes institute has estimated that the ‘Ndrangheta’s turnover from trafficking in drugs and arms, prostitution and extortion amounts to more than 40 billion euros a year – the equivalent of three percent of Italy’s gross domestic product.