A billion dollar drug smuggling operation linked to the Italian mafia and dismantled by authorities in the United States and Italy had established a route between Guyana and the United States via Italy, underlining continued criminal innovation in developing new trafficking routes.
The simultaneous raids in both countries on February 11 saw members of New York's notorious Gambino Mafia family and southern Italy's 'Ndrangheta among 24 people arrested, reported the New York Times.
The bust happened as the network entered advanced stages of planning to smuggle half a ton of pure cocaine from Guyana to a port in Calabria, where the 'Ndrangheta is based, reported Reuters. A portion of the shipment would then have been moved to the United States. Italian investigators estimated the drugs had street retail value of $1 billion after cutting.
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According to EFE, a Mexican criminal group with a presence in Guyana facilitated the trade between the two criminal groups. The operation involved a corrupt Guyanese shipping company transporting cocaine and heroin in consignments of tropical fruits and frozen fish, reported the Independent.
The network was apparently uncovered after a ship owned by the same company was found to have $7 million of cocaine aboard en route to Malaysia, sparking a major investigation.
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Commonly referred to as Italy's "most powerful" mafia organization, the 'Ndrangheta is reported to oversee up to 80 percent of cocaine imports into Italy.
Though the Mexican criminal group involved in this operation has not been identified, an alliance between the 'Ndrangheta and the Zetas has previously been reported. The 'Ndrangheta is also known to maintain significant contacts in Colombia, and has been linked to a major drug trafficking network uncovered in 2013 that involved elements of the Venezuelan security forces.
In this context, the apparent attempt to establish stronger links with the Gambino family in New York may be part of an ongoing expansion strategy that has seen the group reach deep into Latin America.
The use of Guyana as a drug shipment point is not a new development. However, the routes involved in the case -- involving stop-offs in Asia and shipments crossing then recrossing the Atlantic -- highlight not only how drug trafficking organizations often use convoluted routes to move their product to market in the safest way they can, but also how their networks of contacts stretch around the globe and are constantly evolving.