Authorities in Venezuela have detained three security officials linked to a cocaine haul in Italy involving the former secretary of ex-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, in the second recent high-profile European drug trafficking case involving Venezuelan public officials.
The three officials -- a member of the National Guard (GNB), a state policeman and an airport inspector -- were arrested alongside four employees of a cafe located in the departure lounge of the international airport at Maiquetia, which serves the capital Caracas, reported Reuters.
The arrests came little more than a week after Federica Gagliardi, who served as Berlusconi’s secretary at international summits in 2010, was detained at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport with 24 kilos of cocaine in her carry-on luggage, following a flight from Maiquetia. In the wake of her arrest, a prominent Italian author suggested Gagliardi may have connections to Italy's 'Ndrangheta mafia.
According to El Nacional, the Venezuelan police investigation revealed the drugs entered the airport via the western delivery entrance, hidden among cafe supplies. Video footage shows the load passed through security scanners overseen by one of the arrested officials. Gagliardi is later seen giving her hand luggage to the cafe workers, which they return to her visibly heavier.
El Nacional reported the group was linked to a 1.3 ton cocaine shipment recovered in France in September, after leaving the same Caracas airport. A man known as “El Chino,” who remains at large, allegedly served as the contact between the Venezuelans and Gagliardi.
InSight Crime Analysis
High-level members of Venezuela's security forces are known to be involved in drug trafficking as part of the so called “Cartel de los Soles” (Cartel of the Suns). The airport at Maiquetia is controlled by the GNB and, as such, it would be impossible for a major drug trafficking operation to utilize the facility without official complicity, most likely at a level higher than those who have been arrested.
SEE ALSO: Cartel de los Soles Profile
While the size of this latest haul is tiny compared to the massive seizure made in September, it does suggest that the international furor surrounding that case has not prevented corrupt Venezuelan public officials from using similar methods to traffic drugs through the same airport. In both instances the drugs were reported to have entered through the western delivery entrance before passing through scanners. It is also notable that in both cases only relatively low-level officials have been arrested.
The suggestion the two cases are connected is supported by the fact the ‘Ndrangheta -- which Italian authorities said in 2004 was responsible for 80 percent of the cocaine entering that country -- was also linked to the September seizure.