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Wiretaps reveal how Kinahan ally Raffaele Imperiale hoped to import 30 tons of coke before ‘retiring’

“We have done so much to get where we are. We can't give up now.”

Raffaele Imperiale

Raffaele Imperiale and Daniel Kinahan

Neil FetherstonhaughSunday World

Wiretapped conversations between Kinahan Cartel ally Raffaele Imperiale and one of his lieutenants have revealed how the crime boss hoped to import a last shipment of 30 tons of cocaine before “retiring”.

The 48-year-old Imperiale, considered one of the most important cocaine traffickers in the world, was recorded as he organised a major shipment of cocaine from the Colombian port of Turbo to Gioia Tauro.

In secret talks with the convicted Italian drug trafficker Bruno Carbone that were decrypted by Europol and passed on to Italian judicial authorities, Imperiale discusses the importation of industrial quantities of drugs.

In one of the exchanges, Imperiale tells Carbone: "Let's try to be strong. We have to do 30 t (tons) this year. (It’s) important that we do first and 30 t, and then before any other stress we can also talk about retiring.

“We have done so much to get where we are. We can't give up now.”

Raffaele Imperiale and Daniel Kinahan

The Camorra-linked Italian mobster, who is a close associate of Daniel Kinahan, was arrested last year at his luxurious desert bolt-hole in Dubai and finally flown to Rome in March to face charges.

He is a former partner in a so-called ‘super-cartel’ along with the Kinahan, the Dutch-Moroccan Mocro Mafia led by Ridouan Taghi, and the Balkan-based Tito and Dino cartel.

After his extradition to Italy he was arrested in his prison cell following a massive anti-mafia operation that led to the seizure of more than four tonnes of cocaine worth more than €800 million.

The drug kingpin was just one of 36 arrested after 300 police officers carried out coordinated raids as part of a Europol operation against a highly professional criminal syndicate linked to the ‘Ndrangheta crime organisation based in Italy.

The Italian Financial Corps (Guardia di Finanza) dismantled the criminal network which relied on corrupt workers in the port of Gioia Tauro to smuggle hundreds of millions of euros’ worth of cocaine into Europe.

Property searches were also carried out in the provinces of Reggio Calabria, Vibo Valentia, Bari, Naples, Rome, Terni, Vicenza, Milan and Novara that resulted in dozens of arrests and the seizure of €7 million worth of criminal assets.

The arrests follow a complex investigation that identified a corrupt customs officer who allegedly altered the outcome of an x-ray scan performed on a container containing 300 kilos of cocaine. He is believed to have received a sum equivalent to 3 % of the value of the illicit cargo in return.

Italian investigators were also able to identify members of the ‘Ndrangheta, who would arrange for the cocaine to be shipped from South America.

Their investigation also led them to field coordinators, who would recruit and manage the corrupted dockers, paying them a commission varying between 7 to 20% of the value of the illegal cargo.

Complicit port operators who would arrange for the ‘contaminated’ containers to not be intercepted as they were being smuggled into the port of Gioia Tauro were also arrested.

Europol had developed reliable and crucial intelligence concerning the activities of the criminal network and had been working closely with Italian investigators to bring down the whole network.

The Head of the European Serious and Organised Crime Centre at Europol, Jari Liukku, said the investigation revealed how the ‘Ndrangheta is using corruption to enable its criminal activity and undermine law enforcement’s efforts.

“Europol sees the use of corruption, in the private or the public sector, as a major enabler of organised crime,” Liukku, said.

“In this particular investigation we are very pleased to have joined forces with the Italian Guardia di Finanza to support them in fighting large-scale drug trafficking as well as corruption at an EU entry point. In this regard this investigation sets an example.”

Ranked number two on Italy’s most wanted fugitive list, Imperiale was arrested last August as he basked with his family by a swimming pool at his luxury villa.

Imperiale later tried to claim his extradition from Dubai to Italy was a “kidnapping” and in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

But an Italian court said there was no grounds to bring a direct appeal to the Supreme Court.

He is now expected to remain behind bars until his trial on organised crime offences.

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