Italian and US Police Bust Cocaine and Statues Gang

By Dialogo
June 06, 2011

Italian and US police said they have made 66 arrests in a two-year investigation against drug smugglers who hid large amounts of cocaine in crates of chalk statues sent to Rome’s Fiumicino airport.

The cocaine was smuggled to Fiumicino from Colombia through the Dominican Republic and payments were then laundered through various countries including Germany and Libya, ending up ultimately in Boston in the United States.

The Italian side of the operation was led by the owner of a clothes shop in Rome with no previous convictions, who handled contacts with Colombia.

The finances were handled by five Lebanese nationals, who are on the run.

Gang members never communicated by phone, speaking only in public places or by email using code words, officers said at a news conference in Rome.

In a statement, the police said the inquiry had led “to the discovery of a criminal organisation specialised in international drug trafficking and recycling dirty money with a turnover of more than two million euros a year.”

“The Italian side of the inquiry led to the arrest of 14 people and the seizure of over 220 kilograms of pure cocaine, hidden under chalk statues and polystyrene in a hidden bottom of two crates at Fiumicino airport,” it said.

Police said they had also seized bank accounts in the offshore tax enclave of San Marino, as well as villas, cars and even a stud farm outside Rome.

In total over two years, 1,800 kilograms of cocaine and 238 million dollars (164 million euros) in assets have been seized in Italy and the United States.

The investigation, codenamed “Fire and Ice”, was conducted by Italian police working together with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).