The arrest in Italy of a Bosnian drug trafficker accused of working with Colombia's Urabeños crime group shows the growing links between South American and European organized crime and the importance of brokers in the international drug trade.
Italian authorities captured Miro Rizvanovic Niemeier on April 18 in the port city of Civitavecchia, near Rome, reported El Espectador. Rizvanovic, also known as "El Ruso" is accused of working as a broker for the Urabeños, and managing their contacts in Europe. He was due to meet representatives of the 'Ndrangheta, a powerful Italian mafia group, and negotiate the price of an estimated 500 kilograms of cocaine, authorities told El Tiempo.
El Ruso was born in Bosnia, but obtained German citizenship and had previously lived in Colombia. In March 2016, he was captured by Colombian authorities and accused of leading a drug trafficking cell linked to the Urabeños, according to HSB Noticias. Due to alleged health problems, he was put under house arrest, but managed to escape shortly after.
Colombian authorities believe El Ruso was a close associate of Dairo Antonio Úsuga, alias "Otoniel," and was personally responsible for coordinating maritime drug shipments from Colombia and Brazil to Europe and Asia. They also charge that he managed a network of small-scale Cuban traffickers -- known as mulas (mules) -- that smuggled drugs from Colombia to the United States.
Upon arrest, El Ruso said he was willing to share information about the Urabeños provided he is not extradited to Colombia, where he fears he might be killed, according to press reports on his arrest.
InSight Crime Analysis
El Ruso's capture is testament to the growing links between South American drug syndicates and Eastern European organized crime, as well as the importance of brokers in the international drug trade.
While the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2016 World Drug Report (pdf) estimated that 90 percent of cocaine reaching the United States originated in Colombia, Mexican cartels are thought to control most of the trafficking onto US soil.
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Colombian drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) still supply narcotics to the US market, but knowledgable sources have confirmed to InSight Crime that the amount of Colombian cocaine reaching Europe has increased significantly. That suggests Colombian DTOs are moving into other markets to maximize their profits.
At the same time, while Eastern European organized crime groups are unlikely to replace the Italian mafias' old links with Latin American drug syndicates, their role in the international drug trade is increasing.
El Ruso is not the first Eastern European to be accused of ties with Latin American DTOs. In 2014, Serbian Darko Saric, the alleged leader of a drug syndicate accused of smuggling an estimated 5.7 tons of cocaine from Latin America into Europe, turned himself in to Serbian authorities. And in July 2016, another Serbian, Zoran Jaksic, was arrested in Peru. He was accused of being a leading member of "Group America," an Eastern European criminal organization reportedly responsible for smuggling narcotics from Latin America into Europe.
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El Ruso's arrest also highlights the importance of international brokers in today's drug trade. After the fragmentation of the Colombian cartels in the 1990s, men like El Ruso, who could connect Latin American producers with their European buyers and organize multi-ton shipments, turned into key players in the criminal underworld. It is no surprise that Colombian authorities believe El Ruso worked for several clients, including the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel and the Brazilian First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital - PCC), as reported by El Tiempo.