A former mafia boss has come clean on Swiss public television as Italian justice authorities level charges against 174 alleged members of a powerful mob.
Felice Ferrazzo, 55, said he ran the clan that bears his name for ten years before becoming a police informant in 2000. He spoke to Swiss filmmakers Gianni Gaggini and Marco Tagliabue at a secret location in Italy.
Ferrazzo, who is currently under witness protection along with his family, said he was the boss of a Ferrazzo clan in Calabria, southern Italy, a stronghold for the ‘Ndrangheta crime ring.
“I commanded a dozen people,” said the former boss, who dropped out of school in third grade. “I decided what we did and who should be executed.”
The filmmakers say the Ferrazzo clan ran weapons and drugs, namely cocaine, into Lugano and Zurich using well-established connections through northern Italy and Switzerland.
The Swiss connection
Ferrazzo knows the country well.
The Calabrian was 17 years old when he came with his parents to canton Ticino, first near Locarno, then in Lugano, where a large community of people from his home region lived.
With no training, the young Ferrazzo worked as a labourer on a road construction company, a life he would not lead for long. He still thinks back on that time.
“If I had continued to work in Ticino construction, today I’d be close to retiring,” he said. “But that’s not how things turned out.”
In 1982, Ferrazzo was found guilty of smuggling hashish and was sent to prison in Lugano. He escaped a year and a half later and fled home to Mesoraca, where he was well received.
“They baptised me and I became a made man – a messed-up honour in the end,” he said.
In 1990 Ferrazzo consolidated his power at the top of the clan by eliminating those standing in his way, like Ernesto Russo, an ex-boss of the family. He used weapons purchased in Zurich or Lugano to control the area, smuggling them in bags of rice and coffee past guards in Chiasso or Ponte Tresa.
“We were never checked once,” he said.
A network of thugs
It was also in Switzerland that the Ferrazzo clan laundered its money, using mostly Ticino- and Zurich-based banks.
“With him, the ‘Ndrangheta moves into Switzerland, a well established fact with profound ramifications,” said Gaggini, the director of the documentary, called Blood Honour, which aired last week.
“In Ticino, especially in the northern outskirts of Lugano, where a lot of people from Mesoraca live, Ferrazzo developed a thug network—his relationships with his captains in Switzerland were stable and well consolidated,” Gaggini said.
In fact, Ferrazzo, who was arrested in 1993 in Italy and stayed there until 1996, returned to Switzerland upon being freed. It was a certainly an underground visit, but one he used to expand his hold on the Lugano-Zurich axis.
The boss’s life took a decisive turn in 2000 after a return trip to Mesoraca. That year, Ferrazzo and his son narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by his cousin and rival Mario Donato Ferrazzo, who is currently in jail.
“That day my son and I were travelling in a small armoured car and our lives were saved,” he said. The incident pushed him to turn himself into police and cooperate with their investigations.
“I decided to speak to ease my conscience,” Ferrazzo said.
His testimony has led Swiss and Italian justice authorities to decipher the most secret mechanisms of the Calabrian mob and its international ramifications, not only in Switzerland but also in Germany and Spain.
Gaggini said the interviews with Ferrazzo help to shed more light on the ‘Ndrangheta ring.
“It was in fact an overwhelming confession, a simple and raw story, that provides another picture of the mafia, not just one of a strategic organisation but also one of a bloody reality that trivialises crime that no one can escape from, neither in Italy nor in Switzerland.”
Rise to power
Experts estimate the 'Ndrangheta crime ring has an annual turnover of €44 billion (SFr56.1 billion).
Roberto Saviano, author of the book Gomorra about the mob in Naples, estimated the total could be as much as €100 billion for the peninsula.
The ‘Ndrangheta hold a monopoly on cocaine trafficking in Europe. The organisation has partnered up with drug lords in Latin America.
The group funnels tons of cocaine each year through West Africa into Europe and Switzerland, where the drug’s use has increased exponentially over the last five years.end of infobox
Arrests: The 174 alleged members of the ‘Ndrangheta crime ring were arrested last July in Lombardy, northern Italy, and were indicted by the Milan public prosecutor on December 15.
Charges: Prosecutor Ilda Boccassini, known for her numerous investigations into criminal organisations and her work with the former Ticino prosecutor Carla del Ponte, has leveled numerous charges against the defendants, namely for being members of the mob. The defendants will be tried in Milan for activities that extend throughout northern Italy and other European countries, including Switzerland.
Infiltration: Thanks to established connections into local businesses, the ‘Ndrangheta was about to corrupt the bidding process for the International Exhibition of 2015 in Milan, according to authorities.
Seizure: On December 3, the Milan prosecutors office confiscated assets belong to mafia bosses, including apartments, land, warehouses and shops with an estimated value of more than SFr15 million.end of infobox
Translated from French by Tim Neville, swissinfo.ch