Benfica connection to Colombian drug cartels continues to make headlines

Following the breaking story yesterday on former Benfica driver José Santos’ connection to a Colombian cocaine trafficking network, further details of the two-year judicial police investigation have emerged, flagging further suspects in the multi-million euro criminal operation.

Santos – known by police as Zé do Benfica (Benfica Joe) – is believed to have been in cahoots with a group of airport baggage handlers at Lisbon’s Portela airport.

Moving in on the capital’s airport last December, police rounded up four handlers and seized “more than 90 kilos of cocaine”.

The drug had been coming in to Portugal in bags from Brazil and Venezuela, reports national tabloid Correio da Manhã, but none of the bags appeared to be connected to any names.

PJ police “already suspected Santos” of being involved in the operation, but had not been able to catch him “red-handed” picking the bags up. Thus, they decided to put his part in the investigation “to one side”, as they rounded up other people allegedly involved.

With four baggage-handlers in jail and five other people under suspicion, the moment finally came to catch Santos transporting a large quantity of drugs.

As we explained yesterday, he was caught, allegedly in a car owned by Benfica football club, transporting 9.5 kgs of cocaine from Porto to Lisbon in July. The haul – with a street value of around €655,000, and capable of being split into 47,500 individual doses – was apparently being “sent back” by a Porto businessman – also now in jail – who was unsatisfied by its degree of purity, writes CM.

Whatever the case, it was the moment loose threads in the long-running investigation finally started coming together.

Santos is now in jail with Benfica FC said to be “threatening legal action” against any insinuations from the media that the club was aware of his alleged illicit activities.

Carrying a comment from Benfica’s president Luís Filipe Vieira today, CM reveals Santos was a high-earner at the club who had been close to all the top brass for more than a decade.

“Why would he have needed to do this,” Vieira is quoted as having asked investigators.

CM’s leader writer Octávio Ribeiro points out in a side-text that “memory is an anchor, as well as a shackle”. How many people will remember the complicated case in the past where Vieira was convicted, or “the two drug traffickers from Aveiro, who offered up the name of Pinto da Costa (president of Porto’s football club) “in their anxiety to save themselves”, he asks.

For those with short memories, the “complicated case in the past where Vieira was convicted” centred on what arquivo da bola (the football archive) website calls the Benfica boss’ movements in “an obscure world of crime” long before he came to run the nation’s signature club.

Evidence of “the trafficking of narcotics” was “lacking”, claims the website, thus Vieira, along with six others, was eventually tried and condemned for theft.

The case goes back to 1984 though Vieira only received his 20-month prison sentence in 1993. This he did not go on to serve due to legal amnesties that came into effect at the time.

[email protected]