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Judges seek recusal as major Italian mafia trial of ‘Ndrangheta clan begins

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One of Italy’s largest-ever mafia trials began today (13 January) with more than 330 suspected mobsters and their associates facing an array of charges, including extortion, drug trafficking and theft, write and

The case targets the ‘Ndrangheta clan, which is based in Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot, and is considered by prosecutors to be the most powerful mafia group in the country, easily eclipsing the more famous Cosa Nostra gang in Sicily.

The trial is being held in a converted call-centre in the Calabrian city of Lamezia Terme, with metal cages installed for the defendants and rows of desks set up for the hundreds of lawyers, prosecutors and spectators expected to attend.

But the initial hearing hit an immediate snag after the three judges assigned to the case asked to be recused, saying they had been involved in earlier aspects of the investigation.

Their request will be reviewed by a separate court, which will delay proceedings for several days, lawyers said.

Many of the accused are white-collar workers, including lawyers, accountants, business people, local politicians and policemen, who chief prosecutor Nicola Gratteri says willingly aided the ‘Ndrangheta in building its crime empire.

Speaking to reporters as he entered the courthouse, Gratteri said the investigation had encouraged locals to speak out.

Heavily guarded prosecutor takes on Italy's mob powerhouse

“In the last two years we have seen a surge in lawsuits from oppressed entrepreneurs and citizens, victims of usury, people who for years have lived under the threats of the ‘Ndrangheta,” said the prosecutor, who has spent more than 30 years fighting the mob.

The state will call on 913 witnesses and draw on 24,000 hours of intercepted conversations to support the myriad charges. Gratteri said he expected the trial would take a year to complete, with the court due to sit six days a week.

Another 92 suspects have opted for a fast-track trial in the same case, with their hearings due to start later in January, while a much smaller group of defendants will stand trial in February over five murders - including the killing of a mafia hitman who was shot dead because he was gay, prosecutors say.

The last time Italy tried hundreds of alleged mafiosi simultaneously was in 1986 in Palermo in a case that represented a turning point in the fight against Cosa Nostra, marking the beginning of the group’s sharp decline.

That trial had a huge impact because it targeted numerous mob families. The Calabrian trial focuses primarily on just one group - the Mancuso clan from the province of Vibo Valentia - leaving much of the ‘Ndrangheta’s top hierarchy untouched.

“The road ahead is still very long, but we mustn’t give up because there are thousands of people who believe in us. We can’t let them down,” Gratteri told Reuters.

Brexit

‘It is not a friendly signal from the UK immediately after leaving the European Union’ Borrell

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The EU’s High Representative on Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, was asked about the decision of the UK to refuse full diplomatic status to the EU Ambassador to the UK Joao Vale de Almeida and his team in London. Borrell said that it was not a friendly signal from the UK immediately after leaving the European Union.

Borrell pointed out that the EU’s 143 delegations around the world had all - without exception - granted the delegations a status equivalent to that under the Vienna Convention. He said that the EU would not accept that the UK would be the only country in the world that will not give the EU delegation the recognition equivalent to that of a diplomatic mission. 

“Granting reciprocal treatment based on the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations is standard practice between equal partners and we are confident that we can clear this issue with our friends in London in a satisfactory manner,” said Peter Stano, the commission’s spokesman for foreign affairs.

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Kyriakides calls on Astra Zeneca to respect delivery schedules for its vaccine

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In response to AstraZeneca’s announcement that they were expecting to make shortfalls in the delivery of its COVID-19 vaccine, Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides has written to AstraZeneca stressing the importance of meeting the delivery schedules laid out in its agreement with the EU. 

Kyriakides reiterated in the letter that the scaling up of the production capacity has to happen concurrently with the conduct of clinical trials to ensure the availability of the vaccines as quickly as possible. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has not yet given its authorization - a point that has led to criticism from EU states. Her spokesperson said that the scaling up of production was an important premise of the contract. 

The issue will be discussed in a meeting of the steering board made up of the European Commission, member states and the company today (25 January) where it will be made clear that the EU expects contractual obligations to be met. 

Chief Spokesperson for the European Commission Eric Mamer added that European Commission President had spoken with the CEO of AstraZeneca, where she reminded him that the EU has invested significant amounts in scaling up production.  However, she also recognized that production issues can appear with a complex vaccine.

Despite the publicized supply problems at vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca, Peter Liese MEP (EPP, DE)  said: "AstraZeneca's announcement to reduce the planned supply for the EU from 80 million to 31 million doses in the first quarter must not and will not be the last word. [...] they are apparently delivering to other parts of the world, including the UK without delay. The flimsy justification that there are difficulties in the EU supply chain but not elsewhere does not hold water, as it is of course no problem to get the vaccine from the UK to the continent. 

“The company cannot be interested in permanently damaging its reputation in the world's largest single market. Many in the company seem to be embarrassed by the matter. That's why I expect a change in the delivery plans for the EU in the next few hours, and an accelerated one at that. Even the 31 million doses, however, would be a significant improvement in the situation in the EU.”

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Minister calls for Magnitsky-type sanctions in response to Russia's detention of Navalny

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European foreign ministers meeting today (25 January) will discuss the situation in Russia. Arriving at the meeting, Lithuanian Foreign Affairs Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said that the EU needed to send a clear and decisive message that the arrest of Navalny and the detentions following Saturday’s (23 January) demonstrations in Russia are not acceptable. Landsbergis calls for the use of the Global ‘Magnitsky’ type sanctions. 

The EU has already condemned the detention of the Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny upon his return to Moscow (17 January) and called for his immediate release - as well, as the release of journalists and citizens who were detalined on Mr Navalny’s return to Russia. The EU has also called out the politicization of the judiciary in Russia. 

The European Union has already condemned the assassination attempt, through poisoning using a military chemical nerve agent of the Novichok group, on Alexei Navalny, to which it responded by imposing restrictive measures on six individuals and one entity. The EU has called upon the Russian authorities to urgently investigate the assassination attempt on Navalny in full transparency and without further delay, and to fully cooperate with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to ensure an impartial international investigation.

It appears that the EU will request the immediate release of Navalny and others, before a possible visit of the EU High Representative Josep Borrell to Russia before imposing sanctions.

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