Tim Palmer reported
MARK COLVIN: It may be the effect of Hollywood, but for most people the Italian mafia brings to mind the Cosa Nostra and Sicily.
But recent events have underlined just how dramatically the balance of power in Italian organised crime has shifted.
It's the Calabrian mafia, the 'ndrangheta, that now rules supreme over other so called "men of honour" syndicates.
Last month raids in the US and Italy rounded up the men alleged to have been running one of the biggest organised drug routes on the planet.
Among the Calabrian mafia figures arrested were former mainstays of the Sicilian mafia - members of the infamous Gambino family.
Since then a study has put a figure on just how much the 'ndrangheta now turns over in a year, and it's more than the combined revenues of McDonalds and Deutschebank.
I'm joined by the ABC's foreign affairs analyst Tim Palmer.
As much as a hidden economy can be measured, just what do these figures reveal?
TIM PALMER: Well in 2013 the 'ndrangheta turned over $80 billion it's estimated by this research group Demoscopia.
MARK COLVIN: There are a lot of small countries that would be envious?
TIM PALMER: Quite so. And, in fact, in Italy it's the equivalent of 3.5 per cent of that nation's GDP (Gross Domestic Product). And you'd imagine greater than the GDP of some countries, as you say.
I mean the group also estimated that while they have 400 major operatives around the world, that there's as many as 60,000 people working for the 'ndrangheta now. It's quite a sizeable, gigantic organisation that really has supplanted the Cosa Nostra and the Comorra.
MARK COLVIN: Now when I was reporting from Europe in the 90s, I spoke to magistrates who said that some of that money was being laundered through Australia. What do we know about that now?
TIM PALMER: Australia obviously, there's a connection back as far as the 1930s, money laundering has always been alleged as part of the operations here. The rest of course, drugs. The name's associated with Griffith, inevitably. And also of course the men convicted with the tinned tomatoes drug importation, that at the time it happened some six years ago was the biggest bust of MDMA (Ecstasy) in the world.
And it's interesting to see in these figures worldwide, the big industries for the 'ndrangheta around the world is, of course, drug trafficking, firearms trafficking. The illegal garbage disposal industry - $30 billion. Then a bit further down the line you look that extortion and usury brought in a substantial $4.4 billion, nowhere near as much as those top line figures - $36 billion for drugs.
But I spoke to the author John Dickie in London, he has recently written Mafia Republic about the importance of the extortion in ensuring the 'ndrangheta's grip.
And here's what John Dickie had to say.
JOHN DICKIE: Very, very important is extortion. Extortion is how they rule their home territory, wherever it may be in the world. Extortion gives them their foothold in the both the lawful economy and in their control of the criminal underworld, because the key thing about this model is that you extort money both from the car showroom owner and from the car thief, so you control both ends. And you exercise that power to extract extortion money just like a state has the power to extract taxation from its population.
And that's really the key instrument of rule in 'ndrangheta territories. And that's why we the sort of historians and social scientists often think of organisations like the 'ndrangheta as being like a kind of shadow state.
MARK COLVIN: So the 'ndrangheta was the little brother of say the Comorra around Naples and Cosa Nostra in Sicily, now it's the big brother.
TIM PALMER: Certainly is. And the raids in the United States and in Italy last month emphasise that, because amongst the big heads from 'ndrangheta that they picked up there, that supposedly busted this route of drugs from the Americas to Europe, through the big port Gioia Tauro, involving cartels from Mexico and Guiana - not only did they bring in 'ndrangheta figures, but they brought in members of the Gambino family, a name that was synonymous with the Cosa Nostra.
There's clearly a new alliance here, and here's how John Dickie explained that.
JOHN DICKIE: What is striking is that you see them in this operation having an alliance with the Gambino family. Now the Gambinos in the States are as Sicilian American as it gets. They're traditionally have done business with Sicilian 'men of honour' from Cosa Nostra, and the fact that men close to the Gambino clan are seen to be working here with the 'ndrangheta gives you a picture of just to what extent the 'ndrangheta has supplanted Cosa Nostra as the major transatlantic drug trafficker.
MARK COLVIN: John Dickie, author of Mafia Republic, was talking to the ABC's foreign affairs analyst Tim Palmer.