Italian agents on Tuesday confiscated 4.3 tons of cocaine with a street value of nearly a quarter-billion euros (dollars) in the northeastern port city of Trieste, dealing a blow to Colombia’s feared Gulf Clan drug cartel in one of the largest drug busts ever in Europe.
Arrest warrants were being executed for 38 people on suspicion of international drug trafficking in Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Colombia. The seizure was carried out by Italian financial police and coordinated by anti-mafia investigators, following a yearlong investigation that also involved U.S. Homeland Security.
The undercover operation dealt “another strong blow to one of the most important groups of Colombian narcos,” anti-mafia investigators said in a statement.
Last month, the Gulf Clan’s alleged boss was extradited from Colombia to the United States. Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, better known by the alias Otoniel, faces U.S. indictments in three federal courts. The Gulf Clan drug cartelin northern Colombia for four days in reaction to the extradition.
Colombian President Iván Duque at the time of the extradition compared Otoniel to Pablo Escobar, the late former head of the Medellin drug cartel, calling himThe former rural warlord had stayed on the run for more than a decade by corrupting state officials and aligning himself with combatants on the left and right.
Authorities in Italy estimate that criminal groups paid 96 million euros ($102 million) for the cocaine, which would have been worth 240 million euros on the Italian market. Undercover agents infiltrated the drug smuggling chain, which operated in the northern regions of Veneto and Lombardy, the Lazio region including Rome and the southern region of Calabria on the tip of Italy’s boot.
During the investigation, undercover agents were involved in 19 “controlled deliveries,” which led to the identification of key traffickers both at the intermediary and international levels.
Along with the drug, agents also seized 1.8 million euros in cash as well as vehicles allegedly used for trafficking, including a big-rig truck.
According to the U.S. State Department, the Gulf Clan “uses violence and intimidation to control the narcotics trafficking routes, cocaine processing laboratories, speedboat departure points, and clandestine landing strips.”
“The organization operates in 13 of Colombia’s 32 departments, most of which are in the northwestern part of the country,” the State Department said. “During a turf war with a rival criminal organization for drug trafficking routes, homicides shot up 443% over two years.”