Malcolm Moore in Rome
An epic trial of Italy's most powerful mafia families has ended with life sentences for four godfathers who head up a family worth an estimated €25.5bn.
The Casalesi family, which took its name from the town of Casal di Principe near Naples, has been described as the successor to the Corleone family, which ruled Sicily in the 1980s.
The family is thought to have carried out more than 1,000 murders in the past 30 years to establish control of the area between Naples and Salerno. However, Francesco Schiavone, the head of the family, will now spend the rest of his life in prison after being convicted yesterday.
The 10-year legal action, named the Spartacus Trial in recognition of the need to fight a revolution in the Casalesi's territory, charged 36 members of the syndicate with a string of murders and other crimes. All were found guilty and 16 will never be released.
More than 500 witnesses testified in the trial which saw the heaviest penalties ever for organised crime with a total of 700 years of imprisonment.
Francesco Bidognetti, known as Midnight Fatty was given life imprisonment. Michele Zagaria and Antonio Iovine, two other godfathers, got the same sentence but are on the run.
Over the course of the initial trial and the appeal, five people involved in the case were murdered, including an interpreter. A judge and two journalists were threatened with death.
The court was located inside a top security prison in Naples. Only two of the defendants were in the courtroom for the verdict, while others followed it by videolink in their cells.
Raffaello Magi, the presiding judge, said: "Unlike the Neapolitan gangsters who live off cocaine dealing or extortion, the Casalesi exploit every area of economic potential. They do the dumping of the toxic refuse, they hold the monopoly on the cement market, they control the distribution of essential products. They control elections and they offer protection.''
Any business wanting to open in the area had to pay them for permission and then buy cement from them to build their buildings, he said.
They are believed to have built parts of the motorway between Rome and Naples and even the prison at Santa Maria Capua Vetere in which many of family members are held.
In 1996 and 1997, €509m was confiscated from the Casalesis. "This is a sum that would have put any normal company on its knees. But Schiavone continued to prosper. The investigators in Naples estimated a total wealth of around €25.5bn,'' said Mr Saviano.
The Casalesi became so bold that some of its members held meetings in the local police station at San Cipriano d'Aversa.
They stepped up their killing in the days before the final verdict, culminating in the assassination of Michele Orsi, a businessman working in waste disposal with the Casalesi. Orsi (47) was summoned to a cafe in the main piazza at Casale di Principe on June 2 and shot with 18 bullets.
Just two days before, a 25-year-old woman whose aunt had turned state witness was fired on but not killed. The relatives of two other businessmen co-operating with the authorities had already been killed.
Schiavone's brother, Walter, was so enamoured of Tony Montana, the fictional Cuban drug dealer in the 1983 film 'Scarface', that he recreated a replica of his villa, Schiavone was arrested in 1999 and his villa turned into a physiotherapy centre. (©Daily Telegraph, London)