Italian police have uncovered a drug trafficking ring in Milan that used dogs as drug "mules," or couriers, to smuggle cocaine from Mexico, as Latin American gangs reportedly expand their influence in northern Italy.
Police arrested at least 75 people of Latin American origin, including several from Ecuador and Mexico, on charges of organized crime and drug trafficking, following a year-long operation by regional authorities.
Italian prosecutor Alberto Nobili told Excelsior authorities had documented at least 48 trips by members of the gang in which the group used large dogs such as Saint Bernards and Great Danes, to move up to 1.25 kilograms of cocaine in each animal.
The gang members reportedly had assistance from a veterinarian in Mexico, who placed packets of cocaine wrapped in cellophane and carbon paper into the dogs' insides to avoid X-ray detection. The dogs were later killed and cut open to retrieve the drugs.
The prosecutor explained that the number and strength of Latin American criminal groups in northern Italy has increased in recent years. However, as an Italian police official told the Associated Press, this marks the first time that a group of this kind has been accused of constituting a "mafia-type association."
InSight Crime Analysis
There are two things of note. One is the ruthless use of animals to traffic illicit drugs. Other cases have been reported in Colombia. It appears, so far, to be a little used method, but the cruel nature of it (as well as the public's obsession with animal rights) may do more to harm drug traffickers' image than any other criminal act.
Secondly, gangs with roots in Latin America, such as the Latin Kings, Luzbel, Comando, and Neta have grown in northern Italy in recent years. Authorities say these gangs are comprised predominantly of young Ecuadorians, Peruvians and Dominicans who have lived in Italy for most of their lives but faced difficulties assimilating.
These gangs have been tied to the burgeoning local market in Italy. According to European police force EUROPOL, Italy is one of Europe's largest cocaine consumption markets.