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Daniel Kinahan's 'super cartel' ally El Rico is jailed for 11 years for running gangland assassination ring

Vega whose nickname means ‘The Rich One’ was convicted on Monday following a lengthy trial in a fortified court known as “De Bunker

Richard Eduardo Riquelme Vega, known as `El Rico’

Neil Fetherstonhaugh

One of Daniel Kinahan’s closet criminal contacts, the Dutch-Chilean trafficker Ricardo 'El Rico' Riquelme Vega, has been jailed for 11 years.

The international crime boss was found guilty of operating an assassination ring and laundering drug money.

Vega whose nickname means ‘The Rich One’ was convicted on Monday following a lengthy trial in a fortified court known as “De Bunker” located near Amsterdam airport.

His trial heard evidence that Vega had exchanged phone messages organising gangland murders with jailed drug boss Ridouan Taghi.

Judges were also told how Dubai-based Kinahan was in a video on a phone seized from El Rico following his arrest and extradition to Holland from Chile in 2017 that also featured Italian fugitive Raffaele Imperiale and another unidentified man.

Daniel Kinahan

It is alleged that Kinahan, El Rico, Imperiale, Taghi and another imprisoned Dutch drug lord Naoufal “Belly” Fassih were part of a cartel which dominated Europe’s drug trade.

“Belly” Fassih was jailed for 18 years for attempted murder in Holland after he was extradited from Dublin in 2017.

Imperiale is wanted by authorities in Rome to serve an eight-year sentence for drug trafficking and is also believed to be hiding out in Dubai.

Co-accused Taghi who is also separately on trial at De Bunker for allegedly organising seven murders, had been a fugitive from Dutch authorities for years until his arrest in late 2019 in Dubai, where he had previously been a guest at Daniel Kinahan's wedding in the seven-star Burj al Arab hotel in 2017.

His texts to El Rico form a large part of the evidence against him.

Leaked documents later showed the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had compiled a dossier on the wedding party and estimated the gangsters had together imported €23 billion worth of cocaine into Europe.

In 2017, the DEA said the cartel was shipping 100 tons of cocaine to Europe every year through ports such as Antwerp and Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

After those arrests several gangsters fled their Dubai base and have since set up shop in Turkey, from where they organise the shipping and distribution of huge volumes of cocaine throughout Europe.

Last month, Europol warned in a report of "unprecedented quantities of cocaine" being trafficked to the EU from South America.

The colossal sums of money being generated by criminal gangs pose a serious threat to government and commercial institutions.

"The trade in cocaine fuels criminal enterprises that use their enormous resources to infiltrate and undermine the EU's economy, public institutions and society," a statement from Europol said.

It added how cryptocurrencies are increasingly used to make payments to corrupt officials and for money laundering.

Kinahan ally Ridouan Taghi

"In addition, the digitalisation of public administration will lead to the increased targeting of individuals within companies and public services who can manipulate processes and decisions in digital systems or can otherwise facilitate access to valuable information."

As well as a threat to institutions, there is a very real threat of physical violence being meted out by drug cartels.

"The use of violence related to the trade in drugs has escalated notably in recent years. The trade in cocaine and cannabis in particular triggered a significant number of violent incidents, which included killings, shootings, bombings, arsons, kidnappings, torture and intimidation."

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