A weekend report in Expresso claims authorities in Portugal and Spain are once again focused on the threat posed by Ndrangheta mafia drug lords using the Portuguese coast to bring in as much as 80% of the cocaine flooding Europe.
The new impetus follows the arrest in Spain last month of British trafficker Robert Dawes.
Dawes’ detention stemmed from the discovery of 200 kilos of cocaine in Sines two summers ago.
The haul – with a street value of over €6 million – came in on a yacht (Gloria of Grenada) and led to the arrests of as many as 30 people here, in Italy and Spain, and the recovery of €1 million in cash.
Dawes was the largest ‘prize’ in the investigative operation that has reinforced suspicions that Ndrangheta is very much alive and well on the Iberian Peninsula.
As a source told Expresso, “much of the cocaine imported from Latin America” uses Portugal’s coast because of “certain fragilities of maritime frontiers”, its geographical position and economic proximity to countries like Brazil – a major cocaine source.
Yachts and boats “difficult to intercept” are used – like the two discovered off the coast of Madeira and Azores last summer, carrying a combined 1700kg of the drug.
And pre-Dawes’ arrest, other Ndrangheta operatives were located in Cascais and Estoril – involved not simply in drug trafficking but in online gaming.
As one writer has told the paper, Ndrangheta is “the most influential Italian mafia operating in our country”.
Italian prosecutor Nicola Gratteri – one of the authors of the book “White Gold”, unravelling some of the secrets of the mafia’s drug trafficking – confirmed the strategic importance of Portugal for this Calabrian mafia.
“You cannot imagine how many Ndrangheta exist in countries like Germany, Holland, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and Belgium,” he told the paper in May.
But “one of the most important investigations” into the activities of the group was archived in 2012 – even after the former president of Italy’s Antimafia Commission told the paper about Ndrangheta bases in Faro and Setúbal, as well as groups in Cascais and Porto.
No reasons for the decision were given, though a police source affirms that “today things are slightly different. A few families remain, fugitives from Italian justice, trying to live a discreet life, without making waves”.
And in Lisbon this week, a Portuguese investigation into alleged Ndrangheta involvement in restaurants and real estate in central Portugal goes before magistrates.
Despite the best intentions of PJ police and DCIAP criminal investigators, Expresso reveals that defendants “managed to avoid accusations of criminal association and money-laundering”, facing only 80 accusations of aiding illegal immigration.