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Yachts and Cocaine - An Annual Voyage Between Argentina and Spain

ARGENTINA / 19 JUL 2022 BY GABRIELLE GORDER EN

Two Argentine restaurateurs residing in Spain are wanted for allegedly using yachts to send cocaine between South America and Europe, highlighting the regular use of private craft for trans-Atlantic drug trafficking.

On July 14, media in Argentina reported that authorities had issued arrest warrants for Gustavo Marano Fuentes and Darío Pereyra Torres, two restaurant owners living in Marbella, a tourist city on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. The men are accused of running a drug trafficking operation that has been sending annual cocaine shipments across the Atlantic by yacht.

News of the arrest warrants comes one month after Argentine authorities seized around 1.5 tons of cocaine, valued at around $45 million, in the province of Buenos Aires. Most of the cocaine shipment, allegedly destined for Europe, was discovered onboard a yacht on the Paraná River, which runs through Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina before reaching the Atlantic Ocean. Six individuals were arrested in relation to the seizure.

SEE ALSO: How Yachts Contribute to Trans-Atlantic Cocaine Trade

Authorities say the botched June cocaine shipment was not the restaurateurs' first undertaking. According to Argentina’s Attorney General’s Office, the businessmen have coordinated the logistics of at least three maritime cocaine shipments – one per year since 2020.

In 2021, a shipment allegedly disembarked from Rosario, a port city in Argentina located on the Paraná River, that appears to have evaded interception. And in 2020, a yacht reportedly travelled with a cocaine shipment between Salvador de Bahía in northeastern Brazil and arrived in Marbella, where it was intercepted by Spanish authorities.

The investigation into this cocaine trafficking ring, dubbed Operation Atlantis, began in 2018 thanks to an anonymous phone call.

"Pereyra is preparing a shipment of 2,000 kilos of cocaine that will leave Tigre [a city in Argentina’s Buenos Aires province] for Marbella, Spain. Pereyra is number two-in-command after a man named Diego,” said the anonymous caller to police, as reported by Clarín.

Now, Marano and Pereyra’s businesses in Spain and Argentina are reportedly being investigated for possible money laundering.

Marano owns the Tango restaurants, with locations in Marbella and Madrid, known to draw celebrities and athletes. He is also reportedly the sole proprietor of Pasión Tango SRL, the restaurants' holding company, which investigators suspect he may be using to launder drug proceeds, Perfil reported. Meanwhile, Pereyra reportedly owns an exclusive beach club, a shopping mall and a sushi restaurant.

InSight Crime Analysis

These seizures serve as a reminder of how sending cocaine by yacht between South America and Europe remains a popular option for traffickers.

Private yachts and sailboats are attractive to traffickers, as they not subject to the same oversight as cargo ships and are significantly more difficult for law enforcement to track. In early 2021, Spanish police issued a press release referring to investigations into the vast quantities of cocaine being moved to Europe via private yachts from Colombia and Venezuela.

This proved prescient as, in October 2021, a record haul for cocaine discovered on a yacht was found off the coast of Portugal. The shipment of 5.2 tons of cocaine, valued at $232 million, was reportedly organized by Carlos Silla, a Spanish drug dealer, with a penchant for using yachts. Silla allegedly used yachts to move drugs up the Ría de Arousa estuary in Spain's northwest region of Galicia, according to Spanish police.

And while these seizures highlight how police are becoming more aware of the use of sailboats, the problem is not just coming from Latin America. In August 2021, an investigation revealed how Spanish police are also battling yachts coming from Morocco carrying hashish. It also reported that such sailboats carried hashish to numerous West African nations as well.

Latin American yacht owners may want to learn from their Moroccan counterparts who have apparently simulated boating accidents and even faked being attacked by killer whales to evade detection.

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