NEWS

Cracking down on drug cartels

Following the highly successful arrests by Greek authorities on Wednesday of five suspected members of an international drug cartel and the confiscation of some 200 kilos of cocaine, the five appeared yesterday before a public prosecutor and were given until tomorrow morning to testify. The five, identified as Michalis Tsoumanis, 49, owner of a hotel in Preveza and of the club Zorbas in Amsterdam, merchant Giorgios Papadiamantiou, 59, seaman Andreas Karagiorgos, 49, resident of Amsterdam, Nikolaos Polanagnostakis, 44, resident of Belgium and coffee-shop owner Giorgios Papachristos, 44, brother-in-law of Tsoumanis. The prosecutor is expected to charge all five with felonies for violation of the narcotics law, legalization of funds from illegal activities, and forming a gang based on the recent law against organized crime. Authorities have also issued arrest warrants for Constantinos Valianos, 55, a permanent resident of Colombia and the suspected ringleader; Fotis Theodoratos, 59, the captain of the ship Saturn that was used to smuggle the drugs; Evangelos Kavourias, 52, and Christos Bastas, 48, merchant marine mechanic, and seaman Panagiotis Kampilafkos, 35. The case first came to the attention of Greek authorities one year ago when police, the coast guard and the Finance Ministry’s economic crime squad were informed that a Greek gang was seeking to hire a cargo ship in order to transport large quantities of drugs from America to Greece and the rest of Europe. An investigation by the three law enforcement agencies showed that the gang had found the ship Elena, formerly known as Sea Blue, registered to an offshore company known as Karma Shipping. The ship was repaired in Elefsis under the supervision of Papadiamantiou and with the financial support of Tsoumanis, who funded the project to the tune of 30 million drachmas. Tsoumanis and Papadiamantiou, with the help of Bastas, who was aware of the illegal voyage, selected captain Theodoratos to command the ship, Kampilafkos as the ship’s second mate, Kavourias as the ship’s mechanic, and Karagiorgos and four more non-Greeks as the ship’s crew. The ship departed for Colombia on May 7 this year and the Greek authorities immediately informed their counterparts at the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in Athens and the authorities of other countries. Surveillance of the ship indicated that while in Colombia, it was loaded with one ton of cocaine, and en route to the Azores it changed its name to Saturn as well as its flag to that of Tonga. It arrived in the Azores on August 13 where the Portuguese authorities boarded the ship but were unsuccessful in locating the drugs as they were hidden in the ship’s generators. The ship left the Azores on August 23 and authorities speculate that a large portion of the drugs was unloaded while en route to Greece. After the ship entered Greek waters, the coast guard observed the ship approach a remote shore near Preveza where the crew unloaded the suspected illegal cargo, using a speedboat owned by Tsoumanis. The illegal cargo then was placed under surveillance by members of the narcotics squad and security police, who followed those who took delivery of the drugs to the Nikos Hotel in Preveza. It was then that an undercover police team posing as prospective buyers approached members of the drug ring in Athens and negotiated the purchase of five kilos of cocaine. Authorities decided to move in and make the arrests on Wednesday when it was discovered that Papadiamantiou and Polanagnostakis had met in Kinetta with Tsoumanis and Karagiorgos from whom they received the five kilos of cocaine used in the deal with the undercover officers. Police officers in Athens arrested four of the suspected drug traffickers while members of the Finance Ministry’s economic crime squad (SDOE) and local police moved in and placed Tsoumanis under arrest. Authorities confiscated a total of 201 kilos of cocaine contained in 175 packages and impounded ship Saturn – which was in Piraeus where it had docked since October 8 for repairs – a speedboat and a car. Police estimate the street value of the 201 kilos of cocaine to be 15 billion drachmas. The Greek authorities and officials from the American DEA are currently investigating the participation of Valianos, who is still at large, and Papadiamantiou in the case of the smuggling of five tons of cocaine that was confiscated by the Spanish authorities on August 15. Then, authorities arrested seamen Ioannis Kampilafkos, 37 – brother of seaman Panagiotis Kampilafkos who is wanted by the Greek authorities – and Emmanouil Vassilakis, 43, as well as two Spaniards and four Colombians. These two recent cases are part of string of international drug trafficking operations that Greeks have been involved in and which have been broken up by the authorities, confirming previous estimates by international authorities that Greece is at the crossroads of international drug cartels. One year ago in August, the Greek authorities, in cooperation with the American DEA and several European law enforcement agencies, made the largest drug bust in recent years, confiscating eight tons of cocaine. A vast portion of the drugs were found in Venezuela, while authorities in Greece arrested six Greeks, believed to be members of the Greek branch of the international drug cartel. According to the authorities, the ringleader of the Greek side of operations was Elias Laimos, while a Greek police officer was also implicated in the case. Moreover, in May 1999 the Greek authorities, as part of an operation code-named Odessa, arrested eight Greek businessmen and shipowners for their involvement in international drug trafficking. Then, the authorities had confiscated four tons of cocaine which had been found abroad the cargo ship China Breeze.