I'm just a poor labourer, says Mafia suspect

Italian denies he ordered deaths of rivals in Germany

The Italian widower suspected by investigators of dispatching a Mafia hit squad to execute six rival gangsters in Germany last week has claimed he is a poor labourer who scrapes a living from picking olives and his tomato patch.

Giovanni Nirta, 38, denies being the boss of the feared Nirta-Strangio clan, part of Italy's Ndrangheta organised crime network and the man behind the blood-feud shootings in Duisburg last Wednesday of six Italians following the murder on Christmas Day of his wife.

'I know absolutely nothing about this,' said Nirta, dressed in jeans and muddy trainers at his home near San Luca, Calabria. 'They call me a boss, but the only time I was sentenced it was for robbery in 1986.

'I am just a widower looking after his three children; a poor labourer who gets by picking olives and minding the vegetable patch,' he told reporters.

Nirta was the likely target when a group of hitmen opened fire on his house eight months ago, killing his wife, Maria. Nirta said the attack was 'a mistake', but it is seen as the latest round of a feud reportedly started in 1991 by a thrown firework which has now left 15 dead from the Nirta-Strangio and Pelle-Romeo clans.

One of the suspected killers of Maria Strangio was Marco Marmo. He was among those riddled with bullets in Duisburg. The victims had been celebrating the 18th birthday of Tommaso Venturi, also killed, at the Da Bruno restaurant, alleged to be a base for the Pelle-Romeo in Germany, where the Ndrangheta launders some of the £15bn turnover from its control of the European cocaine trade.

Marmo, investigators believe, had gone to Germany to buy weapons. 'I know Marmo, he's a good kid,' said Nirta, flanked by Maria's sisters and mother clad in mourning black. 'If I wanted revenge, why should I have waited until he was in Germany?'

Police believe closer surveillance is prompting the Ndrangheta to take care of business far from Calabria, the poverty-stricken 'toe' of Italy capped by the Aspromonte mountains, inhospitable terrain traditionally used by the Ndrangheta to hide kidnap victims. The money 'earned' now goes into property, restaurants and stocks. Italian anti-mob magistrate Nicola Gratteri said the killing would not stop until one side was 'exterminated'or an 'undisputed leader' emerged.


Tom Kington in Rome

The GuardianTramp

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