Italian police have made 16 arrests in an operation targeting a gang smuggling drugs to Europe through Africa. Raids, which were carried out in several cities includind Parma, Florence, Rome and Naples, resulted in the detention of Nigerian, Ghanaian and Italian citizens, accused of criminal association and the importation and distribution of drugs. In addition, the leaders of the criminal group were identified: two with residence in the municipalities of Castel Volturno and Villa Literno and one in Rwanda. In total, 230 kg of heroin, 20 kg of cocaine and 2 kg of MDMA were also seized.
The organisation was mainly composed of Nigerians who transported the drugs by means of human ingestion and double-bottomed baggage from Pakistan to Italy through Nigeria, Niger, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Turkey and the Netherlands.
Once the drugs arrived in Italy they were processed further and then sold on to a network of drug dealers in the provinces of Naples, Caserta, Rome, Palermo, Florence and Cagliari. The trafficked narcotics were sometimes treated with spices to render them undetectable to drug-sniffing dogs and also undetectable via x-ray. The couriers were also undetectable, as they were never in contact with the drugs.
The investigation also revealed that the importers were helped by members of the police forces of African countries and African customs employees who, for a fee, facilitated their passage to the airport gates. To avoid wiretapping, the group used cryptic language to refer to the drugs, relied on telephone cards and skype and email with foreign service providers.
In one of the arrests, the Carabinieri intercepted a summit held in Castel Volturno between local and African gang members who discussed new strategies to evade controls and arrests. The suspects apprehended in Italy raised no suspicions, as they lived a modest life, working as local entrepreneurs. An integral part of the gang was made up of people who sewed hiding places for the drugs. Their labour was so important that they were paid more than $ 1 000 for each suitcase, according to Eurojust, which helped to coordinate the international investigation.