HomeNewsItaly's 'Ndrangheta and Colombia's Urabeños Continue Profitable Partnership
NEWS

Italy's 'Ndrangheta and Colombia's Urabeños Continue Profitable Partnership

COCAINE / 9 JUN 2022 BY ALESSANDRO FORD EN

An ingenious Italian-Colombian sting operation has arrested dozens of people on both continents and seized a huge quantity of cocaine, revealing how despite recent setbacks, Colombia’s Urabeños are still among Latin America’s biggest drug traffickers.

On June 7, Colombian and European authorities announced the arrests of 20 and 18 people respectively, as well as the interdiction in Italy of 4.3 metric tons of cocaine trafficked by the Urabeños crime group, bringing to an end a year-long investigation that also involved Spanish police and US Homeland Security.

“These drugs belonged to [Jesús Ávila Villadiego] Chiquito Malo, one of the heads of the atomized structures of the [Urabeños],” said Colombian Police Director Jorge Luis Vargas on social media. “[It is] the most important transnational operation against cocaine trafficking this year.”

SEE ALSO: Enduring Italians, Ambitious Albanians – How Cocaine is Changing Europe’s Criminal Landscape

According to Italian investigators, from May 2021 to May 2022, the Urabeños sent 19 separate shipments of cocaine to the Italian port of Trieste, each one weighing up to 500 kilograms, where they were picked up by Italy’s powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia and their Balkan associates. The Urabeños are one of Colombia's most powerful drug trafficking groups. They are known as the Clan del Golfo (Gulf Clan) to authorities but refer to themselves as the Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia – AGC.)

However, all was not as it seemed. A joint Italian-Colombian operation had detected the international drug deal and sent Italian undercover agents to infiltrate it. But in a movie-like twist, the drug traffickers hired the agents to smuggle the cocaine from Colombia into Italy.

In this way, authorities conducted 19 so-called “controlled deliveries.” Colombian police would secretly intercept every shipment before its departure and have it securely flown to Trieste by plane, where the undercover agents delivered the cocaine to unsuspecting buyers.

Spanish police have presented a similar version of events, though with certain key differences, including that the cocaine was also received by three other European crime groups.

InSight Crime Analysis

Putting aside the inventiveness by law enforcement, this case highlights two important strengths for the Urabeños: their undiminished connections to European organized crime and their resilience in the face of punishing state crackdowns.

The Urabeños have had strong ties to the ‘Ndrangheta dating back to the 1990s when the group’s future leaders were still part of the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - AUC). It was an alliance that would help both groups to dominate the trans-Atlantic cocaine trade.

However, the historic leaders who forged those links are almost all gone. The capture and recent extradition of Urabeños leader Dairo Antonio Úsuga, alias “Otoniel,” has threatened to rip apart the Colombian group. Their hold on key drug trafficking territories is already slipping.

SEE ALSO: United They Stand, Divided They Fall – Urabeños Losing Grip in Colombia

But regardless of its failure, the recent ‘Ndrangheta deal may be seen as a continuation of the partnership that created both criminal empires. In October 2021, ‘Ndrangheta emissaries even travelled to the Urabeños stronghold of Turbo in northern Colombia, where they brokered the purchase of nearly a ton of cocaine, according to an investigation by El Colombiano.

They were allegedly met there by the group’s new leader, Chiquito Malo. Despite being Otoniel’s successor, Chiquito Malo has faced reported internal opposition from both his mid-level lieutenants and a rival claimant to his throne.

His continued control of the Urabeños cocaine trafficking heartland of Urabá, a subregion of northern Colombia, is therefore extremely useful. As is the fact the “controlled deliveries” meant the ‘Ndrangheta had already paid the Urabeños by the time the cocaine was seized, according to Italian police, a detail conveniently ignored by their Colombian colleagues.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

BOLIVIA / 1 APR 2022

Millions of young people around the world document their experiences at work, at school or with their friends on TikTok.

ARGENTINA / 19 JUL 2022

Two Argentine restaurateurs residing in Spain are wanted for allegedly using yachts to send cocaine between South America and Europe.

BOLIVIA / 14 MAY 2021

The extradition of a prominent Bolivian drug trafficker to Brazil has shed rare light on how family clans in the…

About InSight Crime

WORK WITH US

Open Position: Full Stack WordPress Developer

28 NOV 2022

As Full Stack WordPress Developer You Will: Work collaboratively with other developers and designers to maintain and improve organizational standards.Demonstrate a high level of attention to detail, and implement best…

THE ORGANIZATION

Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…

THE ORGANIZATION

Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…

THE ORGANIZATION

Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…