Naples court sets up in prison to hold maxi-trial of Mafia suspects

The indoor sports arena that used to provide exercise space for some 3,000 inmates in Naples' Poggioreale prison has become a courtroom for one of the biggest trials in Italian history. In the dock are some 640 alleged members of the Neapolitan branch of the Mafia, known as the Camorra. Their testimony, defenses, and accusations are heard almost daily by about half a dozen presiding magistrates. The spectator standing along one side of the arena have been turned into some 20 white-barred cages for those prisoners attending the trial.

The maxi-trial, as it has become known, is divided into three shifts. Hearings of the first group of 252 prisoners began in early February.

The group giving depositions is disparate. There is Enzo Tortora, one of Italy's most popular television personalities and a member of the European Parliament since last June's elections; he is accused of distributing cocaine in show-business circles.

There is Renato Vallanzasca, a criminal already serving a life sentence for murder. Franco Califano is a popular singer. Antonio Sibilia, the former manager of the first-division Avellino football team, is allegedly in the pay of the Camorra. A nun, Sister Aldina Murelli, allegedly acted as messenger between Camorra members inside and outside prison walls.

The trial's origins go back to early 1983 and the accounts of a few leading Camorra members who broke the traditional wall of silence that surrounds Mafia organizations. They told police all they knew of the organization that operates mainly under the charismatic figure of Raffaele Cutolo, who formed his powerful ``family group'' -- Nuovo Camorra Organizzata (New Organized Camorra) -- in 1979.

Mr. Cutolo began serving a life sentence in 1980. From prision he has allegedly been running his business of drug-dealing, racketeering, contracting for building construction, and contraband.

The chief informers in the case are Pasquale Barra, nicknamed ``the animal,'' who is said once to have been a Cutolo henchman, and Giovanni Pandico, who describes himself as a ``blood brother'' and ``secretary'' to Raffaele Cutolo.

The accused can be divided into three groups -- those already serving sentences for Camorra crimes, some of whom have turned state's witnesses; those who have strong evidence against them apart from that given by the collaborating Camorristi; and those who are implicated by Camorra members' recent confessions but protest their innocence. The latter include Mr. Tortora and Mr. Califano.

The crowd of criminals collected in this courtroom seems to have made little more than a dent in the Camorra's multiple activities.

Police chief Gianfranco Corrias still has on the wall of his office a map of the Naples area that delineates those areas known to be under the control of each Camorra family.

Although there is public outcry against the dictatorship of crime leaders over the everyday life of the city, the signs of their power remain visible. Italy is still one of the leading countries for cocaine dealing, one of the main sources of income of the Camorra. Owners and managers of shops, offices, and especially building sites, are forced to hire Camorra members and usually end up paying monthly protection money.

Meanwhile police continue to round up suspects, overloading the Italian judicial system even further. But like the Mafia, the roots of the Camorra are deep in Naples' social past and present. Too many people find social stability, protection, and wealth in the pay of the Camorra for it to be easily replaced.

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