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Monday, 8 February 2010

four accused - Nicola Ciconte, 54, of Rowville, Michael Calleja, 51, of Kew, Vincenzo Medici, 45, of Mildura, and Carmelo Loprete, 41, of Adelaide

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four accused - Nicola Ciconte, 54, of Rowville, Michael Calleja, 51, of Kew, Vincenzo Medici, 45, of Mildura, and Carmelo Loprete, 41, of Adelaide - will be tried in absentia in the town of Vibo Valentia in Calabria after a failed attempt by the Italian government to extradite them from Australia.Anti-mafia prosecutor Salvatore Curcio has told The Age the prosecution will use testimony from a Mafia turncoat, whose name has been suppressed, to corroborate phone taps, photographic and video evidence allegedly linking the four to a multimillion-dollar drug smuggling network that stretched from Colombia through Spain and Italy to Australia.According to court documents, the turncoat has confirmed the alleged link between the Calabrian Mafia and what prosecutors have termed ''leading crime figures operating in Australia''.
He has told prosecutors the four Australians made several trips to Italy to arrange the shipment of large quantities of cocaine while members of the elite Carabinieri special operations group filmed their alleged meetings in Calabria.
''The essential nucleus of the investigation with which we are dealing can, without any doubt, be confirmed in the statements and accusations made by [unnamed turncoat]; through the taps of telephones and public places; in international documents; and as a result of searches and seizures carried out in identifying assets,'' prosecutors said in one document.Security is expected to be tight at the trial after a bomb attack outside a court building in nearby Reggio Calabria and the discovery of explosives during a visit by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano in January.
Court documents allege the four Australians conspired with the Calabrian Mafia in the ''transportation and importation'' of 500 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated street value of $35-$50 million from South America via Italy to Melbourne between 2002 and 2004.
The trial is the latest in a series of cases that arose from an investigation into a vast Mafia drug-smuggling network that sought to ship enormous quantities of cocaine inside slabs of marble, plastic tubes and canned tuna across four continents.
Italian court documents obtained by The Age allege that Nicola Ciconte played the lead role in negotiating with the Italians in setting up the operation.
Prosecutors are expected to present detailed transcripts of long-distance telephone conversations allegedly between Ciconte and Vincenzo Barbieri, a senior Mafia figure who was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2005.The four Australians are charged with criminal association aimed at international cocaine trafficking and attempted importation of cocaine. If convicted, they would face lengthy prison terms if they set foot on Italian soil.Arrest warrants for them were issued by anti-Mafia prosecutors and Italian police in January 2004.While the Australians are not expected to appear at the trial, a court lawyer will be appointed to represent them.When approached by The Age, the Italian Ministry of Justice declined to comment on the status of the extradition request or whether it had ever been formally put to the Australian Attorney-General's department or the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

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