‘Confusing’ arrests as Liverpool suspects show up in Italian and Albanian mafia territory
Dramatic footage released by Greek police over the weekend showed four British men reacting in panic as armed officers raided their rented villa in the port city of Thessaloniki.
The men, aged 38, 45, 48 and 52 and described as from Liverpool and London, are accused of being involved in the upper echelons of organized crime in Western Europe, and their presence in Greece has raised eyebrows among experts . A fifth Briton, believed to be outside Greece, is also wanted for questioning.
Liverpool drug gangs are known to operate internationally, with well-documented links to South American cartels. But the Merseysiders thrown into Greek prison cells on Thursday have popped up in unusual territory.
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They were arrested in connection with 300 kg of cocaine concealed in a shipment of bananas, identified in Calabria, Italy, and seized in Thessaloniki. Greek officials said the investigation was a joint operation between Hellenic police, Italian authorities and the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Calabria is the home territory of the fearsome and powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia clans, whose tendrils stretch across continents and whose members control vast swaths of the European cocaine trade. However, experts say that so far there have been no real signs of any of the major Italian mafia organizations in direct competition or in partnership with British organized crime groups.
ECHO understands that cocaine trafficking through Greek ports is usually a route taken by Albanian master criminals, who have dominated the UK cocaine market in recent years, but there is also evidence that Albanian and Italian mafia groups work together.
Dr Anna Sergi, a professor of criminology and organized crime at the University of Essex and an expert on European mafia groups, told ECHO that the alleged involvement of British men in cocaine trafficking via Calabria was “puzzling “.
Dr Sergi said another puzzling aspect of the seizure was that Greek police said part of the cocaine shipment was destined for Australia, where established ‘Ndrangheta franchises are believed to be longtime control large parts of the cocaine trade.
She said: “On a systematic level, there has been no sign of partnership between the ‘Ndrangheta or the Cosa Nostra [A Sicilian based mafia group] or one of the major Italian mafia and British organized crime groups. I ran a project on this and Britain didn’t seem to have been infiltrated by the ‘Ndrangheta, unlike almost every other country in Europe.”
Dr Sergi said cocaine trafficking in Europe was governed by a complex and changing pattern of deals and agreements between extremely powerful organisations, involving the Latin American, Albanian, Italian and Irish cartels, as well as groups smaller.
Besides hundreds of blocks of cocaine, Greek police seized a pistol and bullets, radio and position equipment and more than 10 mobile phones. The suspects must appear before a Greek court.