THE Sicilian Mafia has been overtaken by far more ruthless gangs in South America and Eastern Europe bringing bloodshed and misery to the UK, experts have claimed.
With the arrest of top Sicilian mobster Matteo Messina Denaro, many have proclaimed this as proof of the downfall of the notorious Cosa Nostra.
The Cosa Nostra had ties to the deadly US mob families[/caption]
The power of the mob was broken by the Commission Trial and the RICO Act[/caption]
In Sicily, cops have been waging a 30-year war with the Cosa Nostra[/caption]
The diminished status of Sicily‘s mafia, once one of the world’s most infamous criminal organisations, is largely down to a 30-year effort by authorities on the Italian island to pick apart their power networks, saving the island from turning into what one expert called a “narco-state”.
Another key factor behind Cosa Nostra’s decline is the work of US prosecutors to take down the Five Families, the Italian American Mafia groups that ran much of the organised crime in New York.
The Sicilian mafia had far closer ties to the US mob than other major mafia groups, including the ‘Ndranghetta in Calabria, and the Camorra in Naples.
Speaking to The Sun Online, John Dickie, professor of Italian at UCL and author of the book “Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia”, explained the links between the Sicilian and US mafias.
He said: “The Sicilian mafia had something that the others didn’t, a trans-Atlantic bridge.”
These ties were largely broken by the enforcement of the RICO Act and the Commission Trial, which resulted in eight senior mobsters going down for 100 years in prison each.
A similar trial in Italy, the Maxi Trial, was held in Palermo, Sicily, in a special concrete bunker connected to a prison built specifically for the cases.
It saw 338 gangsters, including 19 leading mafia bosses, sentenced to a total of 2,665 years in prison in 1992.
John went on: “A generation ago when Denaro went on the run, western Sicily was ‘hostile territory’ for the Italian state.
“The mafia had given itself the right to kill anyone with impunity and to take its extortion tax from any economic activity, whether legal or illegal. The mafia was a shadow state.
“Over the last 30 years, the Italian state has slowly gained back ground.”
But today, 30 years on from those verdicts, experts have warned that there is more cocaine in the world than ever before, with the drug trade bringing ever more violence and misery to the streets of the UK.
Part of this is believed to be down to the likes of the Sicilian mafia being usurped by more brutal gangs in Colombia and Eastern Europe.
However, speaking to The Sun Online, author and journalist Toby Muse warned against any romanticising of the Italian mafia.
Toby, who spent 10 years living among the feared Colombian cartel the Clan del Golfo, said: “The mafia likes to portray itself as like ‘The Godfather’ and claim it had rules. In reality, they’re a bunch of snitching crooks.”
The British-born writer behind the book “Kilo: Inside the Deadliest Cocaine Cartels”, explained how the Colombian cartels emerged as a new, deadlier force in the 1970s and 80s, transporting drugs to Europe and the United States in previously unheard-of quantities.
He said: “When the Colombian cartels set up their connects in the 1970s and 80s, there was no real overlap with the mafia.
“They created their own market, which was selling cocaine.”
The most notorious of these, the Clan del Golfo, also known as the Los Urabenos cartel, emerged out of the far-right death squads which sprang up in response to the lawlessness in the country in the 1990s.
Colombia’s government had signed a peace deal with the left-wing FARC insurgency which handed over a portion of the country the size of Switzerland to the Marxist guerillas.
They wreaked havoc on the local people, often staging a campaign of kidnappings in return for huge ransoms.
This led to local farmers arming themselves and forming militias to take on the rebels, protecting themselves when the state was unable to do so.
Expect to see corruption in the UK
Eventually, they formed the AUC, a far-right paramilitary force which quickly turned to cocaine production as a means of funding their own reign of terror.
One of the AUC’s major commanders went on to found the Clan del Golfo.
Toby explained that while the US mob may have controlled low-level distribution, they never reached the level of the Clan del Golfo.
He said: “Today, there is more cocaine in the world than we have ever seen before in history.
“It is seen as a Colombian problem, but it is funding and empowering violent gangsters around the world. It is corrupting officials around the world.
“The domino effect of Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia’s cocaine industries is extremely dangerous.”
Part of the impact of this, Toby explains, has been bigger and bigger cocaine shipments, with the high-profile busts offering an insight into the scale of the industry.
One enormous bust saw 20 tonnes of the drug seized in the United States.
In another such huge bust in February 2020, authorities in the Caribbean arrested a crew from Montenegro on board a cargo ship carrying five tons of cocaine.
Toby added: “This is a global problem that requires global solutions. Colombia cannot solve this alone, and it is unfair to expect it to, while wealthy countries are still buying this drug in such huge numbers.”
The Clan del Golfo have also escalated the violence associated with international crime to new, previously-unseen levels.
Its power shows no signs of diminishing any time soon, despite ever more money being pumped into efforts to fight it.
Last year, cartel militiamen shut down much of Colombia’s north in retaliation for the arrest of their leader.
Former cartel leader Dario Antonio Úsuga David, better known as Otoniel, was arrested in 2021 as part of a major raid on his jungle hideout.
In response to his extradition to the US last year, paramilitary fighters in balaclavas threw up roadblocks, torched vehicles, and forced businesses to close.
This week, Otoniel pleaded guilty to drugs charges in a US court, and faces at least 20 years in prison, after he was extradited to the United States last year.
Along with drugs offences, he was hit with more than 120 charges in Colombia, including murder, kidnapping, sexual abuse of minors, terrorism, and weapons charges.
Far from breaking the back of the Clan del Golfo, it would appear his replacement has already been appointed.
Jesus Avila Villadiego, known as “Chiquito Malo”, or “Little Bad Man”, is believed to have filled Otoniel’s shoes.
Toby puts this down to a failure of the war on drugs and the so-called “capo strategy” used by enforcement agencies – based on the belief that taking out the head of a cartel will cause it to collapse.
Steady deals have taken place between the largest European criminal organisations and the Colombian drug cartels.
The ‘Ndrangheta – or Calabrian mafia – have more established links with the Colombian cartels than the Cosa Nostra ever had.
For example, the OCCRP (Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project) reported in 2022 on the scale of the ties between the ‘Ndrangheta and the Clan del Golfo.
In a raid in June, Colombian authorities seized 4.3 tonnes of drugs and arrested 38 suspects in a huge operation.
While Colombia’s government has made incredible strides to tackle the power of the cartels, the vast sums of money created by the drug trade are now bringing misery to many other parts of the world.
Toby went on: “With this cocaine money flooding around Europe, you will see more corruption, this industry requires corruption.
“Expect to see corruption in the UK. This is a fight Colombia has been fighting for 40 years.”
Much of the cocaine in the UK comes from Colombia via Europe’s biggest port Rotterdam.
In 2021, the Dutch city’s customs officials intercepted a record 70 tonnes of cocaine, up 74 per cent on the year before.
This represents just a fraction of the cocaine which is entering the port and reflects the crisis facing officials.
The city’s mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb warned that Rotterdam is “drowning in cocaine” and blamed the drug for a rising tide of violence.
Young men from deprived parts of the city are drawn to the drug trade which promises easy money and a glamorous lifestyle.
Even port employees have been arrested for drug trafficking-related offences, including a 43-year-old female cop.
Some of this spreading corruption can already be seen in the US, where agents for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) have confessed to conspiring with drug cartels.
In 2020, disgraced agent Jose I Irizarry pleaded guilty to 19 federal counts including bank fraud, as well as diverting millions of dollars in drug proceeds from DEA control.
Much of the cocaine that ends up in the UK comes from Colombia[/caption]
It often enters Europe via major ports such as Rotterdam[/caption]
Clan del Golfo leader Otoniel was captured in 2021[/caption]
The new leader of the Clan del Golfo is believed to be Chiquito Malo (right)[/caption]
Disgraced former DEA agent Jose I Izarry conspired with the drug cartels[/caption]