Three Greeks charged over cocaine ship

Three Greeks and a Spanish national were charged in Athens yesterday in connection with the seizure of a Greek-owned freighter that was loaded with several tons of cocaine in the Atlantic. Constantinos Seidis, 37, who ran a Piraeus-based shipping company, Acropol Ship Management, and Aristidis Kotsores, 47, owner of the Oriental Prestige shipping firm, are believed to own the Cambodian-flagged Winner stopped off northwestern Africa by French frigates early on Thursday. They were charged with organizing a drug shipment, setting up a criminal gang and money laundering. Similar charges were brought against Anastasios Kagasidis, 57, and Ruben Galleguillos, who are both thought to have traveled to Quito, Ecuador, on May 29 to arrange the loading of an estimated 10 tons of cocaine on the 100-meter ship in mid-Atlantic. The seizure of the ship and the arrests followed a 15-month-long collaboration between US, French, Greek and Spanish authorities, in an operation that made use of surveillance aircraft and satellites to trace the Winner’s movements. One crewman was injured as French commandos and crew members exchanged gunfire. It is still unclear how much cocaine the ship – which was carrying scrap metal from Cuba to Bilbao in Spain – contained, as the crew dumped some of the incriminating cargo overboard. So far, 1.5 tons have been found, but the vessel can only be fully searched next week when it reaches the French port of Brest. Seidis was first placed under surveillance in March 2001, after the Greek drugs squad received a tip-off that he was to provide a ship to Spanish cocaine smugglers. The ship, named Breve, eventually sailed for Spain, but broke down and the plan was abandoned. In June 2001, Seidis and Kotsores formed an offshore company that bought a freighter called Amir. Renamed Winner, it sailed from Romania last month for Cuba with a scrap metal cargo. On May 26, Greek Georgios Boreas, 58, and Cypriot Symeon Theophanous flew to Cuba and replaced the ship’s captain and engineer. The Winner left on May 29, and took on the drugs from another ship late on June 4, 400 miles east of the Caribbean islands.