NEWS

Colombian drug cartel seen behind 2017 murder of Belgian in Athens

YIANNIS SOULIOTIS

TAGS: Crime

The murder of 56-year-old Belgian Luigi Vancheri in the Athens neighborhood of Neos Cosmos in 2017 remained an unsolved mystery until criminal investigators were able to access the contents of his mobile phone.

Text messages saved on the device exposed the motives and identity of the perpetrators. One of these, a 32-year-old Albanian national, was arrested in Epirus at the Kakavia border crossing with Albania at the beginning of February and was expected to appear before a prosecutor on Wednesday.

Two of his accomplices, who go by the names Tony and Vinny, are still elusive. They are charged with killing Vancheri by shooting him in the head on the orders of a Colombian cartel.

The victim is said to have owed an unidentified sum of money to the cartel.

The assassination took place on the night of June 16, 2017 on Fanosthenous, a pedestrianized street in Neos Cosmos.

Forensics collected a bullet shell from a 22mm gun at the scene, while the postmortem found the bullet stuck in the back of the victim’s skull. The victim had been shot from behind at very close range.

Vancheri, who was born in Ans, a small municipality located in the Walloon province of Liege, was a resident of Ibiza, Spain.

He flew to Athens on June 10, six days before he was murdered, and had been staying at the Cypria Hotel in central Athens. Investigators found 1,000 euros in his pocket.

During the inquiry, Greek officers submitted a request for information on the victim via Interpol.

Feedback over the coming weeks helped them focus their investigation: The victim had been charged with drug smuggling in Belgium, Spain and Switzerland.

He was described as a leading member of a drug racket operating in the European Union and Latin America.

According to a report in Belgian newspaper La Meuse a few days before his trip to Athens, he had been found guilty by a Liege court in connection with a narcotics case.

Greek officers obtained a search warrant to review the records of the victim’s cellphone and retrieved all his conversations on messaging services including WhatsApp and Viber.

Vancheri appeared to owe money to members of the Colombian cocaine cartel with which he collaborated. The Latin American drug traffickers apparently blackmailed him by abducting and holding a member of his own gang hostage. The two sides had set up a meeting to settle the debt in Zaragoza.

The Belgian had apparently traveled to Athens to negotiate the future of the collaboration with representatives of the rival gang.

Investigators found dozens of messages exchanged between Vancheri and the 32-year-old Albanian suspect. It was the latter who told the victim to show up at the location where he was later killed on Fanosthenous Street.

Below is one of the messages retrieved by police:

Victim: Where is Tony?
Suspect: I will ask him the address.
Victim: You’ve got the address?
Suspect: 14 Fanosthenous, Neos Cosmos.
Victim: I’m going there now.

The 32-year-old was easily identified by the police, most likely because the victim had his personal details on his cellphone.

He was identified and arrested at passport control at the Kakavia border crossing on February 1.

During interrogation, he told police that it was he who sent the Belgian instructions for the fateful meeting but denied any involvement in the crime.

He also failed to provide further information on his two accomplices, claiming he could not recall any details.

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