Stayin’ Alive: The Italian Crime Ring That’s Thriving In Australia

This article can also be found Tremr.

The murder of Attorney Joseph “Pino” Acquaro two weeks ago in Melbourne, Australia, was about “putting the fear back into the mafia community.”

Acquaro had been a protege of the last of the Australian godfathers – Liborio Benvenuto. Benvenuto was the one who had initially encouraged Acquaro to become a lawyer. He needed a bright young advocate; a go-to lawyer for the gangsters of Melbourne, to be exact.

Benvenuto, who died in 1988, was the leader of The Honoured Society, the Melbourne-based installment of the ‘Ndrangheta – a mafia group based in the Southern Italian region of Calabria, known for its secret societies. ‘Ndrangheta is one of the most powerful criminal groups in the world, and is believed to be a major player in the international drug trade. Nearly 6,000 members worldwide participate in both legal and illegal industries, ranging anywhere from produce to illicit drugs. And like any conventional criminal organization, ‘Ndrangheta members often times resort to settling matters in bloodshed.

The Honoured Society first got its start in Australia in Queensland, but now bosses of the organization reside in most every major Australian city. They report to the senior-most leaders back in Calabria, Italy. Although the Sicilian mafia group, Cosa Nostra, is far better-known than ‘Ndrangheta, the latter became the most powerful crime ring in Italy in the late ’90s and early ’00s. Currently, 31 Calabrian families of The Honoured Society operate 60% of the drug trade in Australia. The group has been responsible for more violence and murders in Australia than any other crime group. American organized crime expert, John Cusack, stated that “'[The Honoured Society] is well entrenched in Australia.’ It was engaged in ‘extortion, prostitution, counterfeiting, sly grog, breaking and entering, illegal gambling and the smuggling of aliens and small arms.’”

Historically criminal groups have been short-lived, as common interests tend to be “undone by hubris, greed or treachery.” ‘Ndrangheta, however, is alive and well. But how has it thrived, given the aforesaid history surrounding criminal organizations? Firstly, Australia is a very profitable place for the drug business, and ‘Ndrangheta has taken full advantage of this fact. Other crime groups have often depended on their leaders’ ruthless and charismatic dispositions, while ‘Ndrangheta focuses on the collective and its sheer determination to survive. This type of thinking destroyed any internal rivalries that had the potential to threaten the organization.

‘Ndrangheta members have seamlessly managed to integrate themselves into the major political parties in Australia over past decades, effectively providing insurance against any surveillance or suspicion that might arise. Australian authorities who provided intelligence into The Honoured Society in the past eventually paid for it with their lives. Since the 1930s, the government asserted that there was no existence of a mafia organization of any sort. In 1995, the National Crime Authority claimed that it could not find evidence of any Italian criminal groups, and stated that “although the ‘Ndrangheta-based cells existed in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, ‘their primary purpose appears to be sociocultural rather than criminal, more akin to clans and fraternities.’” It wasn’t until 2011 that a report finally acknowledged the existence of the group.

Only a handful of mafia-related murder cases in Australia have been brought to justice over the past century, and with the government’s downplay of the criminal activity, this isn’t surprising information. Based on history, unfortunately “there is little chance that the police will catch Acquaro’s killer.”

Photo courtesy of smh.com.au

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