The story of an Italian criminal who is to be extradited from Colombia back to his home country indicates Italy's mafia remains powerful in Latin America, despite the inroads made by other European drug trafficking groups.
Colombia's Supreme Court has approved the extradition of Italian drug trafficker Enricco Muzzolini, who according to police is a member of southern Italy's 'Ndrangheta mafia, Colprensa reported.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Extradition
Muzzolini had been arrested at least five times, police reports show. In 2010, he was captured in the Colombian capital Bogotá due to an extradition request against him, but he was later released because Italian authorities had not been able to formalize the demand. The same happened only months later, and following his third capture he was finally extradited to serve a two-year term in Italy. By 2014, he was back in Colombia, where he continued to run drugs to Europe. He was detained in Bogotá's international airport in 2015 while trying to smuggle 1.5 kilograms of cocaine to Italy and was released from prison a year later, only to be recaptured in Bogotá in March 2016.
In 2014, Muzzolini was convicted in absentia to nine years in prison by a court in Palermo, Italy on drug trafficking charges linked to three instances of drug possession in Colombia, Peru, Spain and the Netherlands.
The mafioso had "stable relationships" with South American drug trafficking organizations capable of moving vast amounts of cocaine to Italy, Spain, England and China, according to Colombian police.
InSight Crime Analysis
Muzzolini is just the latest in a long line of Italian mafiosos who have been arrested on Colombian soil. The apparent ease with which he could enter and leave Colombia, even after multiple arrests, helps explain the presence of Italian groups in the country.
The Italians have for decades dominated cocaine channels into Europe in collaboration with criminal organizations based in the Southern Cone, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. Recently, however, there have been indications that other European organizations -- notably Balkan traffickers -- have made their way to the top of the South American cocaine trade. British intelligence sources consulted by InSight Crime have suggested that Serbian groups are potentially taking over as the main drug traffickers into Europe. Investigators from the European-based Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) also believe that such groups are collaborating with the Italian mafia for the wholesale distribution of the drug.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of European Organized Crime
Nevertheless, international security consultant John Marulanda told InSight Crime that according to public and private intelligence sources, the Italian 'Ndrangheta and Camorra mafias are still the main European allies to Colombia's drug trafficking groups.
The recent arrests in Italy and across Latin America of 144 alleged traffickers -- who were apparently led by members of the 'Ndrangheta -- is further proof of the Italians' continued authority in the continent.