The scene could have been lifted straight from The Godfather. In a dimly lit restaurant back room, 14 thickset men sit huddled around a table listening attentively to their boss as he lectures them on the importance of dignity, honour, respect – and extortion.
Yet the sinister meeting is not from Hollywood. It is real life – a gathering of the Calabrian ’Ndrangheta gun and drugs Mafia held recently in the small Swiss town of Frauenfeld, north of Zurich. The event was clandestinely filmed by Swiss and Italian police during a two-year investigation.
“You can work in everything – extortion, cocaine, heroin,” insists the Mafia boss as he welcomes what are believed to be new recruits to his criminal organisation. “There is everything, 10 kilos, 20 kilos a day. I will bring it to you personally but then I don’t want to know anything more about it.”
Germany’s Der Spiegel was the latest in a number of European media outlets to publish the video – released by Italian investigators – following the arrest last Friday of at least 16 ’Ndrangheta suspects by Italian and Swiss police. The round-up was the culmination of an elaborate police investigation, Operation Helvetia, that was launched in 2012.
The police video offers a rare insight into the secret world of the Calabrian Mafia and its bizarre rituals. Antonio Nesci has been identified as the Mafia boss shown in the film. He is nicknamed “the Swiss Mountain”. Speaking Italian, he informs his new recruits that the ’Ndrangheta’s code of conduct dates back to the 1830s. “Just as knights were baptised with iron and chains, so I baptise you with iron and chains,” he tells them.
Swiss police have described Nesci’s gang as a group of “heavyweight operators” who are deeply involved in hard drugs and weapons dealing. Nesci, who was among those arrested last week, is said to answer directly to the jailed ’Ndrangheta leader and so-called “boss of bosses”, Domenico Oppedisano.
Oppedisano, 83, was arrested with 300 other Mafia suspects in Italy in 2010. Police found the evidence to convict him after bugging the trees in his Calabrian orange grove. He is currently serving a 13-year sentence.
In the video, Nesci tells his fellow gang members that the Frauenfeld Mafia cell has existed for “37 to 38 years”. He insists: “We are clean, clean – it has taken years to build up this reputation… I repeat again, the society of Frauenfeld is one of honour, wisdom and dignity.” He then goes on to talk unashamedly about the gang’s extortion rackets and murders.
Italian police say the Frauenfeld cell was directly answerable to the ’Ndrangheta’s rulers in Calabria. There has been speculation in the Italian media that Nesci also led Mafia operations in southern Germany. Police investigators bugged a meeting at a pizzeria in the south German town of Singen in 2009, during which a similar “baptism ceremony” was held.
Prosecutors in Italy have been exasperated by the perceived failure of other European countries to clamp down on the ’Ndrangheta, which is now regarded as the Mafia’s most powerful organisation.
They say German authorities only woke up to the ’Ndrangheta threat after six Italians were brutally executed outside a restaurant in Duisburg in 2007.
Last week EU-sponsored research showed that the Italian Mafia was expanding in Britain, specifically London and Aberdeen.