Severe blow | 

Kinahan links to Colombian kingpin revealed after biggest takedown since Escobar

"It is believed that Otoniel regularly met with criminals from Europe to negotiate cocaine shipments"
Dario Antonio Usago was found after a search involving 500 soldiers

Dario Antonio Usago was found after a search involving 500 soldiers

Nicola Tallant

The European cocaine super cartel had close links with the Colombian drug kingpin whose arrest two months ago has been described as the 'most severe' blow to narcotics trafficking this century.

The super cartel is made up of the Irish Kinahan mafia, the Balkans' Tito and Dino cartel, the Dutch Mocro Mafia and the Italian Camorra.

Dario Antonio Usago, better known as Otoniel, was arrested after a seven-year hunt by Colombian special forces who moved in on his jungle hideout in October with 500 soldiers and 22 helicopters.

The leader of the El Clan del Golfo, who had a penchant for young girls and who moved through his mountain hideout on donkeys, had a strong alliance with Balkan, Italian and Mexican cartels and in particular had ties to Edin Gacanin, one of the super cartel business partners of Daniel Kinahan.

It is believed that hundreds of tonnes of cocaine were ordered directly for the European market through the relationship and during meetings deep in the Colombian jungles.

A staggering eight tons of cocaine was seized by police in Colombia

A staggering eight tons of cocaine was seized by police in Colombia

The emerging picture of the global movement of cocaine from Colombia, Ecuador and Chile to Europe has given a disturbing insight into how the Balkan element of the super cartel brought the drug gangs directly to their suppliers in the mountains where coca leaves are grown.

Sources say a business plan for the merging of the groups was the brainchild of Daniel Kinahan and each cartel brought money and contacts together to form a powerful grouping that has flooded Europe with cocaine over the past five years.

"Each had something unique to bring, whether they could offer a money laundering service, control of the major entry points into Europe at Antwerp or Rotterdam or the connections with the Colombian bosses who control the 600,000 acres of cocaine production land.

"It has been an extraordinary time for Europe," a source said. "Each member of the big four European groups had something vital to offer the other. The merging of these groups has resulted in this tsunami of cocaine we describe that has hit Europe."

A staggering eight tons of cocaine was seized by police in Colombia

A staggering eight tons of cocaine was seized by police in Colombia

The direct links between the super cartel and the Colombian cocaine kingpin have emerged as the Government approved a request by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to enter a formal information exchange with the Colombian National Police.

A member of the Garda's Drug and Organised Crime Bureau has been based in the region for over a year, building a strong Irish presence in the south American country, which is the largest producer of cocaine in the world.

An investigation by the Sunday World based on EU drug reports, source information and reports published across the Balkan territories has found that the Kinahan organisation can be directly linked to Otoniel, whose arrest has been hailed as the most significant since the takedown of Pablo Escobar in 1993.

Usaga, aka Otoniel, was Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker and was a former guerrilla leader who used his military background to take over territory of the northwest of Colombia.

Colombian authorities believe that Otoniel regularly met with criminals from Europe, and in particular the Balkans, to negotiate massive cocaine shipments and even brought them into his jungle home to hammer out deals.

His right-hand man, Chiquito Malo, is also suspected of meeting with the criminals and having a personal relationship with a close associate of Gacinan.

At the time of Otoniel's arrest, General Jorge Luis Vargas, the director of the Colombian national police, said that members of the Balkan group would travel into the uncharted Paramillo Massif mountain range to meet with the clan heads.

"Five mafias and international cartels are the principals with whom the Clan Del Golfo trafficks: Jalisco New Generation and Sinaloa in Mexico, the Calabresa and Siciliana mafias in Italy and the Balkan networks," he said.

"We have identified 28 countries where cocaine is sent by the group."

Vargas went on to say that the clan was laundering its money with business people of Lebanese, Arab and Israeli origin.

He listed regular routes for the cocaine as the US, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Ireland, the UK, Italy, Albania and Ukraine with connections in Iran, China, Australia and the United Arab Emirates.

Edin Gacanin

Edin Gacanin

Otoniel is set to face trial for trafficking 96 tonnes of cocaine to the US between 2003 and 2021. Meanwhile, Malo, or Avila Villadiego, has already been tipped as a new leader of the clan. He was linked directly to Edin Gacanin more than four years ago and in 2020 his uncle Mirza Gacanin was arrested in the Netherlands on suspicion of money laundering.

Police believe he was involved in a seizure of cocaine hidden in bananas that were seized in Antwerp.

A seizure of 15 tonnes of cocaine on a ship from Chile that arrived in Philadelphia is also suspected of being organised between the Colombians and members of Europe's supercartel.

A recent EU drug report said the Kinahan mafia was becoming more significant in the global distribution of cocaine and that Irish gangs were increasingly establishing their own operations to transport cocaine to Europe from producing countries.

Daniel Kinahan

Daniel Kinahan

The new agreement between gardai and the Colombian police is a step in the global effort to target the drug trafficking networks between South America and Europe.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has warned of the increasing threat of global terrorism and organised crime, and said gardai must be in a position to respond to the threats through partnerships with other security services and law enforcement agencies.

The agreement was approved by Cabinet last Tuesday, allowing Justice Minister Helen McEntee to sign the letter of intent along with her Colombian counterpart.

The agreement comes after new liaison posts were created in a number of major cities, including the Colombian capital Bogota, where a senior detective, who was key in targeting the Kinahan cartel, was deployed earlier this year on a five-year post.

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