International police sting reveals lucrative partnership between Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta and Colombia’s Urabeños cartel

Colombian officials said that a year-long international sting operation run as a collaboration between Colombian, US, Italian and Spanish police, had exposed a profitable collaboration between Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta and Colombia’s Urabeños cartel.

In total, 20 people were arrested in Columbia, and a further 18 people in Europe.

International police sting reveals lucrative partnership between Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta and Colombia’s Urabeños cartel

4.3 tonnes of cocaine were confiscated in Italy more than $2 million in cash were found by the police in Colombia.

“With authorities from #EEUU, Spain and Italy, we have just carried out the most important transnational operation this year against cocaine drug trafficking, belonging to the ‘Clan del Golfo.’”

General Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia, Director of Colombia’s national police said in a tweet.

Los Urabeños Cartel

The Los Urabeños cartel, also known as Clan del Golfo, is one of the most powerful and ruthless criminal organizations in Colombia. The cartel members refer to themselves as the Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia – AGC.) They consider themselves to be at war both with the Colombian government and the guerilla group FARC.

Over the last ten years Los Urabeños fought to take over control of the cocaine trade in Medellin, the former centre of Pablo Escobar’s narco-empire. After that they expanded throughout the entirety of Colombia.

According to General Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia, the drugs belonged to  Jesús Ávila Villadiego Chiquito Malo, one of the leaders of the Urabeños’ atomized structures.

The ‘Ndrangheta

The ‘Ndrangheta is Italy’s most powerful criminal organization.

They are a Calabrian mafia organization that has surpassed rivals like the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and the Neapolitan Camorra to control the cocaine trade in Europe. More than 3% of Italy’s GDP is reportedly made up of their illegal profits.

Most of the time they obtain the drugs through their Latin American business associates who cultivate and refine coca.

The ties between Los Urabeños and the ‘Ndrangheta

The links between the Los Urabeños and the ‘Ndrangheta were forged in the 1990s, when the cartel’s future leaders were still members of the paramilitary UUnited Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia – AUC). Both factions would benefit from the relationship, which would enable them to control the transatlantic cocaine trade.

But nearly all of the legendary figures who created those connections are now gone. The commander of the Urabeños , Dairo Antonio Suga, also known as “Otoniel,” was recently apprehended and extradited to the US, endangering the Colombian gang. Their control over strategic hotspots for drug trafficking is already eroding.

A Daring Sting

Italian undercover agents were sent to infiltrate the international drug deal after it was discovered by a combined Italian-Colombian operation. However, in an unexpected, although welcome, turn of events, the drug dealers recruited the agents to smuggle the cocaine from Colombia into Italy.

“Try to imagine what it means to go for a beer or two with narcos.”

Leonardo Erre, one of the undercover officers, according to Trieste Prima.

Authorities carried out 19 ‘controlled deliveries,’ , each weighing up to 500 kilograms, in this manner. Prior to each shipment’s departure, Colombian authorities would covertly intercept it and arrange for a secure airlift to Trieste, where undercover officers would then distribute the cocaine to unsuspecting customers, namely the ‘Ndrangheta and their Balkan allies, who picked up the shipments and readied them for distribution.

Spanish authorities also revealed that three other European criminal organizations also got cocaine in this smuggling operation.

The Takeaway regarding the collaboration between the Los Urabeños and the ‘Ndrangheta

It is clear that notwithstanding the change in leadership and the extradition of Otoniel, the collaboratin between the ‘Ndrangheta and Los Urabeños is still going strong. This is not surprising given the strategic importance of the alliance to both of the criminal organizations, since it is one of the main factors that led to their exponential growth over the last decades.

According to an investigation by El Colombiano, in October 2021 ‘Ndrangheta emissaries travelled to the Urabeños stronghold of Turbo in northern Colombia where they negotiated the purchase of nearly a ton of cocaine. It is also believed that during this visit they met the new leader of the cartel, Chiquito Malo, who has taken over from Otoniel.

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