Alarmed over a reported plot by organized crime groups in the United States and Italy to smuggle as much as 1,000 pounds of cocaine from Guyana to the port of Gioia Tauro in Calabria, leaders of the main opposition APNU yesterday met with senior army officers.
The meeting came a day after US and Italian authorities moved against key figures from both countries for narcotics trafficking, among other charges, based on what is being called a transnational heroin and cocaine trafficking conspiracy involving the ‘Ndrangheta, which is one of Italy’s most powerful organised crime syndicates.
Local authorities are keeping a close eye on the details from the busting, and according to sources attempts are being made to seek further information on the plot to export cocaine from Guyana and the claim that Mexican drug cartels may be operating here.
“Operation New Bridge,” which was carried out by FBI and Italian agents simultaneously just after midnight in Brooklyn, New York, and just before dawn in Italy on Tuesday, resulted in 24 arrests.
Among those arrested were Franco Lupoi, a member of the Gambino crime family with links to the ‘Ndrangheta and who allegedly plotted to transport 500 kilogrammes of cocaine internationally, hidden in shipments of frozen fish or pineapples, from Guyana to Italy.
When contacted yesterday, Opposition Leader David Granger, who leads APNU, confirmed that he and coalition executives Winston Felix and Joseph Harmon met with a GDF team, which included Chief of Staff Mark Phillips.
In an interview with Stabroek News, Granger said that that it was the seriousness of the issue that prompted APNU’s call for the meeting. He stressed that once the Mafia is involved, “it is no laughing matter” and added that it was a waste of time taking their views on the issue to the Minister of Home Affairs, who has allowed the National Drug Strategy Master Plan to lapse.
The opposition has repeatedly registered its no confidence in the minister, including by way of a parliamentary vote and continues to call for him to demit office.
Granger said the issue is beyond the reach of the police and the Ministry of Home Affairs, which is why the army was approached with a view of asking that its available resources, particularly aerial and marine resources, be used to prevent the entry of cocaine into the country.
Asked what came out of the meeting, Granger added that his delegation’s concerns were noted and they will be taken to the Defence Board.
He said too that the opposition will be doing everything possible legislatively to support the GDF.
Pack it into fish
Meanwhile, court documents seen by this newspaper regarding the Guyana link said that on September 12, 2012, Lupoi explained to an undercover agent that he had contacts in Guyana who could arrange the shipment of cocaine to his contacts in Italy.
At the meeting, which was recorded, he told the undercover agent that he had “a great connect” who could “pack it [cocaine] into the fish,” and then “freeze it in a block.” According to the documents, Lupoi told the undercover agent that the supplier was a “Mexican with the cartels,” who would ship it from Guyana to Italy, and possibly on to Canada, where Lupoi had “buyers to buy it up in Canada.”
Lupoi later explained to the undercover agent that there were also others involved in the scheme.
On October 8, 2012, the undercover agent and Lupoi met to further plan for the cocaine shipment. During the recorded meeting, Lupoi said “they put a hundred grams, two hundred grams in each fish” and “it takes a day to defrost and then it takes a day to take out.”
With regard to receiving his cut of the money from the cocaine deal, Lupoi explained that he had “no worries” because “we’re dealing with the Italian mob.” It is alleged that later, on October 10, 2012, Lupoi told the undercover agent that the source of the cocaine “is a close connect with the Chinese [guy]. The Chinese [guy] brought it up to this Greek [guy], and the Greek [guy] brought it up to me and that’s how I connected.”
He went on to explain that “if something goes bad, they’re going to aim me, they’re gonna aim the guy that’s here, and they’re gonna aim the Greek. The Greek guy’s gonna go the first, because he’s the one who put the connection with me.”
It was stated that on December 1, 2012, at a Dunkin Donuts located in Manhattan, the undercover met with Lupoi and the other members of the conspiracy, including the “Mexican with the cartels” – Jose Alfredo Garcia- and the “Chinese guy” – Alexander Chan.
The documents said that Lupoi, Chan, Garcia and others made extensive plans for the cocaine shipment in emails, recorded meetings, and recorded telephone calls. In preparation for the shipment, co-conspirators in Italy reportedly took control of a fish wholesaler to act as a front company for receipt of the shipments. They subsequently discussed having the cocaine packed in pineapple and charcoal for shipment to Italy.
Up until the time of their arrest on Tuesday, Lupoi, Chan and Garcia continued to work on the plot to ship cocaine from Guyana to Italy.
A Reuters report also said that the FBI and Italian investigators intercepted email messages between mobsters in Italy and a fruit canning company in Georgetown, Guyana.
It also said Italian court documents indicated that “the conspiracy slowed when shipping containers originating from the same Guyanese shipping company were seized in Malaysia and found to contain more than $7 million in cocaine hidden in pineapples and coconut milk.”
In November 2012, the Malaysian news agency Bernama reported that a container from Guyana was intercepted with cocaine in coconut milk and that a Nigerian drug syndicate was believed to be behind it. “Based on information from United States Drug Enforcement Administration (US DEA), the ship which arrived on Monday (Nov 12) at Port Klang was filled with 980 cartons of cans containing coconut milk and pieces of pineapple,” Bukit Aman Narcotics CID director Datuk Noor Rashid Ibrahim said at the time. He said the container, which originated from Guyana, was to be sent to Mozambique and South Africa was to be used as a transit point to transfer the container to another ship.