The biggest mafia trial in more than 30 years is set to start, when more than 350 alleged mobsters and their collaborators face justice in a huge, purpose-built courtroom in southern Italy.
On trial will be members of the 'Ndrangheta, a network of clans based in Calabria, in the toe of the Italian boot.
It is regarded as the most powerful of Italy's mafia organisations, having surpassed the more famous Cosa Nostra of Sicily.
"It's the most dangerous and it is present in every continent," said Nicola Gratteri, a leading prosecutor in the trial who has lived under police protection for 30 years.
"And it is the richest because it has a virtual monopoly on the importation of cocaine into Europe," he told AFP, while guarded by three plain-clothes police officers wearing black balaclavas to hide their identity.
The drug trade earns the 'Ndrangheta an estimated €50 billion euros a year. The network is also renowned for its brutality – last week it was claimed that a businesswoman from Calabria was murdered and fed to pigs in 2016 after refusing to sell her land to a man with 'Ndrangheta connections.
The alleged Mafiosi face charges ranging from murder and attempted murder to drug trafficking, money laundering and extortion.
Also on trial will be accountants, lawyers, public servants and politicians who allegedly collaborated with mob bosses. More than 900 prosecution witnesses will be called in a trial that will involve 400 lawyers.
It is the biggest mass trial since the 1980s, when a similar judicial marathon held in Palermo delivered a decisive blow against Sicily's Cosa Nostra mafia.
The proceedings, expected to last at least two years, will take place in a fortified courthouse in an industrial area outside the city of Lamezia Terme in Calabria.
The alleged mafia members on trial come from clans in the town of Vibo Valentia, and exclude the powerful godfathers who are based in the city of Reggio Calabria to the south.
One of the most prominent figures on trial is Luigi Mancuso, who has allegedly continued to run drug trafficking operations despite spending much of his adult life behind bars.
"I think the impact of the trial will be limited because it doesn't target the most important people, apart from Mancuso," said Anna Sergi, an expert on the Italian mafia at Essex University.
"He's the youngest of 11 brothers, a very charismatic figure. He is seen as a sort of cult leader," she told Britain's Telegraph. "He's a major player in drug trafficking and created connections across Europe, especially in Germany."
The 'Ndrangheta – the name comes from a Greek word which means "society of men of honour" – so far has only a "scattered" presence in Britain, said Prof Sergi.
"They use the banking system of London to launder money from the rest of Europe but they don't have as much of a physical presence in the UK as in other countries."
Gratteri, the prosecutor, has an intimate knowledge of the 'Ndrangheta – as a boy he went to school with the children of mafia bosses. "I understand their criminal philosophy, their reasoning," he said.
Having seen the mob's corrupting influence on his home region, he said he had vowed to do something about it when he became an adult.
Many of the defendants were arrested during a series of coordinated pre-dawn raids in Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Bulgaria in December 2019.
In one of the properties that was raided, police found a scrap of paper with details of the secret blood oath which new members of the 'Ndrangheta must swear, replete with esoteric references to swords and white horses.
The raids were raids carried out by police officers, some of them equipped with night-vision goggles, as well as soldiers from the army's parachute regiment and elite helicopter-borne tactical units.
- Telegraph Media Group