Mafia and Colombian cocaine ring arrests

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Leading figures in the Colombian cocaine cartels and Italian organised crime families were under arrest last night after a worldwide operation against drug trafficking.

The 10-month investigation, codenamed Operation Green Ice, which was co-ordinated by the United States Drugs Enforcement Agency and the Italian authorities, was the biggest of its kind.

In a series of arrests beginning last Friday, 201 people were detained and about 680kg of cocaine and dollars 65m ( pounds 37m) in cash, securities and valuables were seized.

Fifteen front companies operating in areas as diverse as cleaning and frozen fish were closed. An animal rights group had also been used as a front organisation.

In Britain, Customs officers arrested two US citizens at a house in Queensgate, central London, and seized 43kg of cocaine, valued at about pounds 7m at street prices, and some pounds 2m in banknotes from a lock-up garage near by after a surveillance operation.

The operation is said to have ended important links between the Colombian Medellin, Cali and Pereira cartels and the Sicilian Mafia, Neapolitan Camorra and Calabrian 'Ndrangheta syndicates. Among the 34 people arrested in Italy was Jose 'Tony the Poke' Duran, 38, described by Italian officials as the biggest distributor in the world of cocaine for the Colombian drug cartels. Duran was arrested with Pedro Villaquiran, alleged to have been his chief distributor.

Among the front companies to be closed down was a wine export company based in Corleone, the Sicilian hill town which is home to Don Vito Corleone, the central figure of the Godfather films. Members of a family called Corleone were arrested.

In Rome, officials showed their jubilation at a news conference attended by Peter Secchia, US ambassador to Italy. Vittorio Mele, a magistrate, said: 'I would not hesitate to define this operation as the most important ever carried out in Italy and Europe against narco-trafficking and money- laundering.' Vincenzo Parisi, chief of the Italian police, said: 'Never has the Mafia suffered a blow on such a scale.' More than 160 people were arrested in the United States, including Rodrigo Polonia Gonzales Camorga, head of the foreign office of the Colombian National Bank. Camorga, who has sat on international anti- drug commissions, was held in San Diego, California.

In Washington, George Terwilliger, US Deputy Attorney- General, said the arrests included seven of the top money managers of the Cali cartel. 'Our aim is to drive a stake through the heart of the illegal drugs business by attacking their financial operations.'

Green Ice is the third successful US/Italian investigation of its kind.

In the mid-1980s 'Operation Iron Tower' broke up a money- laundering operation between Sicilian and US Mafia families and, in 1987, police cut the 'pizza connection', a heroin-trafficking network using pizza restaurants to distribute drugs in US cities.