NEWS

Cod and cocaine

YIANNIS PAPADOPOULOS

TAGS: Crime

The fish from Ecuador were to be delivered at Piraeus port on Christmas Eve. However, photos sent to a Greek undercover policeman’s cellphone on December 21 showed that cod was not the only product stowed in the container.

Dozens of drug packages sealed with brown adhesive tape and with a logo of an anchor on a green background had been carefully stashed in a crypt on the container’s floor. The time for the arrests was ripe.

On December 29, a 74-year-old Greek, a 48-year-old Turk and a 40-year-old Chinese were arrested in Attica and charged with taking part in a drug smuggling crime ring. The cargo of 176 kilos (almost 390 pounds) of cocaine that was to arrive from Latin America via Malta never made it to Greece: it had been impounded six days earlier in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest port.

Kathimerini presents the behind-the-scenes moves that helped dismantle the criminal network. The arrested persons had not suspected, over a period of nine months, that two of their supposed collaborators were undercover policemen.

According to case documents, two of the accused approached a third person in April 2018, unaware that he was an undercover police officer, and asked him to rent storage space and find a company that would get the cargo through customs and transport it. They gave him a cellphone with an encryption app and told him to contact them only through this phone. A second undercover cop appeared as a “representative” of the company.

The alleged ringleader, a Turkish citizen nicknamed “Dutchman” ordered in July 2018 a container of pineapples from Ecuador. This would be a “clear” one, that is, it would not contain any drugs, but would be a trial in order to see if the container would be inspected at Piraeus port. However, it appeared that the drug gang’s plans were modified. Their initial contact was asked to research prices of fish from Ecuador. It was apparent that they planned to smuggle the cocaine in a container with a (legal) shipment of fish.

A clear consignment of cod and squid arrived in Piraeus on Oct. 21, but it was actually inspected by Greece’s Coast Guard and the Financial Crimes Unit who did not find anything illegal.

For both trial shipments, the undercover policeman was paid by a Chinese citizen, a shopowner in Athens. To get the money, he had to take a photo of a 5 euro note and send it to the “Dutchman” who, in turn, would inform the Chinese shop owner of the note’s serial number. The undercover policeman had to show the same note to the shop owner. According to policemen in the Narcotics Division, this is a regular procedure used by international drugs gangs to identify the person whom they pay for his or her services.

When the cocaine consignment was ready to be shipped from Ecuador, authorities there were informed through the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) office at the US Embassy in Athens. The 176 kilos of cocaine seized would have earned the traffickers an estimated 5 million euros.

The arrests, in Athens and the seaside suburbs of Voula and Varkiza, followed. According to case documents, the same ring would transit heroin from Iran, hidden in a shipment of marble, with the final destination being Germany.

After facing an examining magistrate, the Greek and the Turk suspects were jailed, while the Chinese shop owner was released on 20,000-euro bail and is forbidden to leave the country. The alleged ringleader, the 34-year-old “Dutchman” is still at large.

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