A major European anti-drug operation has led to the seizure of 700 kg of cocaine belonging to the Colombian ELN guerrilla group and demonstrated a connection between illegal Colombian armed groups and the Italian mafia. The joint police operation, carried out by Italy, Spain, and Colombia, has dealt the second significant blow to these criminals in two years.
According to the Guardia di Finanza, an Italian military unit with functions in judicial, fiscal, and customs policing, the street value of the drugs for the Italian mafia was €15.5 million. It is estimated that the final value of the cocaine on the European market would have reached €75 million. Italian authorities reported that the operation also resulted in the seizure of €700,000 in cash, as well as various vehicles.
International Police Collaboration
The operation was coordinated by the Italian police, the Spanish Civil Guard, and Colombian law enforcement, with the support of the U.S. National Security Investigations Agency. In addition to the significant drug seizure, 21 individuals have been arrested for their alleged involvement in drug trafficking activities.
The cocaine originated in Colombia and the shipment is believed to have been organized by cells of the National Liberation Army (ELN), an illegal organization currently engaged in peace negotiations with the Colombian government. According to Italian customs police, the buyers of the cocaine in Europe were mafia organizations from the Italian regions of Lombardy, Campania, and Calabria.
This police success follows a similar operation in Italy last year when 4.3 tons of drugs that the Clan del Golfo had shipped from Colombia to the European market were seized. That operation resulted in 38 arrests, including members of the Clan del Golfo. It allowed authorities to trace the drug distribution channels and ultimately led to the successful operation against the ELN.
Undercover agents played a crucial role in this successful operation by infiltrating the drug storage and distribution networks. This practice allowed authorities to learn that the Colombian drugs’ destination was the Italian mafia, and to intercept the shipment.
Investigations concluded that emissaries of the Colombian cartel had contacted European criminal groups in France and Morocco, which were linked to major Italian mafia organizations such as the ‘Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia that has become Europe’s most powerful criminal organization, and the Neapolitan Camorra.
These mafia organizations operate in the southern Italian regions of Campania and Calabria, as well as in the northern region of Lombardy. The ‘Ndrangheta, in particular, is unique in that it has surpassed the traditional Sicilian mafia, the Cosa Nostra, and now has connections and branches on all five continents, with an estimated 60,000 members.
ELN – Italian Mafia Connections
Colombian and European law enforcement authorities were aware of the connections between various dissident groups of the FARC in Colombia and the Italian mafia. It was also known, from the 2022 operation, that there was a relationship between Italian illegal groups and the Clan del Golfo. This latter group, which has paramilitary connections in Colombia, had already faced measures by U.S. authorities in the fight against drugs. Jobanis de Jesús Ávila, alias Chiquito Malo, the leader of the Clan del Golfo, was included by the U.S. in the so-called Clinton List for being one of the main global drug suppliers, selling to customers such as the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel.
With this recent joint operation, it is evident that the ELN also maintains collaborative ties with the powerful mafia organizations in southern Italy. The authorities’ objective is to disrupt the supply chain originating from various illegal groups in Colombia.
On April 26, 2013, a coordinated action between Italian police, Colombian authorities, and Interpol led to the arrest of Domenico Trimboli, known as Pasquale, one of the most wanted mafiosos of the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta, who was sentenced to over twelve years in prison for drug trafficking. Trimboli, aged 59, was accused of being one of the most active and dangerous members of Colombian cartels and responsible for sending large quantities of drugs from Latin America to Europe. He was arrested in Medellin, Colombia.