One of Mexico’s most infamous cartels has formed an alliance with Romanian gangsters to bring cocaine into the UK, The Times can reveal.
July 24 2017, 12:01am, The Times
A European syndicate of the sadistic Sinaloa cartel, notorious for mass decapitations and brutal torture, is working with a Romanian gang running heavy goods vehicles in an effort to seize a share of Britain’s lucrative cocaine market.
The Romanian gang, supplied by the cartel, has the capacity to bring large amounts of cocaine to the UK on a weekly basis using HGVs, the National Crime Agency warned.
Longstanding links between British gangs and Central American cartels have focused on Liverpool and its docks, where container ships bring in vast quantities of cocaine, principally from Venezuela and Ecuador. Ferries bringing in freight vehicles from the Irish mainland as well as entry points including the Channel tunnel, Dover, Felixstowe, Folkestone and Harwich ports have also been used.
The Times can reveal that despite Europol warning four years ago that Mexican cartels had stepped up their presence in Europe, no member state has yet asked the agency for help in tackling the problem.
The previously unreported involvement of the brutal Sinaloa cartel will raise concerns about the impact the group will have on the increasingly violent British drugs trade, which has driven a rise in gun crime and involved children as young as 12 being used as mules to deliver drugs from the cities to rural areas.
The group’s leader, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera — known simply as El Chapo (or Shorty, due to his height), has twice escaped from maximum security prisons in Mexico.
El Chapo has presided over a series of massacres including the slaughter of 35 innocent men and women whose bodies were left strewn along a motorway in Boca del Rio, on the east coast just south of Mexico City in 2011. His gang has also dismembered and decapitated scores of rival gang members.
The gang’s new alliance with the unnamed Romanian gang will raise concerns about border security at the Channel tunnel and ferry routes on to the British mainland, where freight lorries pour into the country.
A spokeswoman for the NCA’s drug threat team said: “In collaboration with international partners [we] identified a Romanian OCG [organised crime group] with the capability to import large amounts of cocaine into the UK on a weekly basis using HGV transport.
“Intelligence indicates that the Romanian OCG are still being supplied by a Mexican OCG linked to the Sinaloa cartel. It is assessed that this network of OCGs will continue to supply large volumes of class A drugs into the UK.
“Previous significant interdictions of their supply has not deterred the group from continuing their criminal activity aimed at the UK market.”
As much as 100 tonnes of cocaine is shipped to the UK each year but the majority is intercepted by law enforcement agencies. The NCA has seized nearly 70 tonnes in a single year.
The NCA, known as Britain’s FBI, added that the Sinaloa cartel was often described as the largest and most powerful cartel in the western hemisphere and said that there was a dearth of available intelligence on Mexican cartels moving cocaine into the UK market. The agency believes, however, that “they have proactively sought a position due to the high prices for cocaine in the UK and an opportunity to maximise profits”.
Previous investigations into links between UK-based gangs and their Mexican counterparts showed that British criminals either travelled to or based themselves in Mexico to oversee the supply and transportation of the drugs.
Couriers have been tracked to European airports such as Frankfurt and Brussels before travelling on to the UK, the NCA said. A number of these couriers have been intercepted at European airports with an average 4-5kg of cocaine in their possession with a street value of at least £250,000.
In 2015 corrupt staff at Heathrow were jailed for their roles in a cocaine-smuggling racket that spanned several years and involved stashing the drugs in British Airways cargo consignments from Mexico City airport.
Europol warned that Mexican cartels had moved to Europe to secure lucrative trade routes as long ago as 2013.
The Mexican Sinaloa and Los Zetas cartels, which dominate cocaine smuggling from South America into Europe via ports in Venezuela, cut deals with Liverpudlian gangs for access and security for shipping containers arriving at the city’s port, Europol said. The Liverpool gangs then distributed the drugs across the country.
The three dominant Mexican cartels, with the addition of the Knights Templar, are also known to be active in Spain, whose gangs have close ties to UK drug supply.
In January two Romanian brothers were arrested smuggling 23kg of cocaine worth an estimated £1.4 million into the country hidden on a lorry. Gabriel Codita, 27, and Constantin Alin Codita, 28, were each sentenced to eight years in prison at Canterbury crown court in March.
In March 2016, a Romanian bus driver was jailed after he was caught with £18 million of cocaine in his luggage hold while bringing children on a school trip to the UK. Ioan Buciuta, 53, was caught at Dover. He was described as a “trusted courier” after he was sentenced to 17 years in prison.
Behind the story
Everywhere the Sinaloa cartel and its Mexican rivals are mentioned, their reputation for death precedes them (John Simpson writes).
“They’ll kill anyone, these Mexicans . . . they’re f***ing mad,” Paul Taylor, head of a notorious Liverpool crime syndicate, was recorded telling a co-conspirator during a £4 billion cocaine deal in 2014.
Although its leader has been extradited to the US to stop his repeated escapes from maximum security prisons in Mexico, the Sinaloa cartel is still widely regarded as the most powerful drug-trafficking organisation in the western hemisphere.
The group hails from the city of Culiacan in the state of Sinaloa on the west coast. It was created in the 1960s but rose to notoriety in the late 1980s and early 1990s when it assumed control of moving a large proportion of Colombia’s cocaine, as Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel crumbled.
Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, now 60, went from selling oranges in the street to running the multibillion-pound operation and was known to carry a gold-plated AK47 assault rifle and a gold-plated .45mm handgun. Under his leadership scores of rivals have been decapitated or killed in car bombings, their mutilated bodies left strewn along motorways. In 2010 a rival gang member was kidnapped, chopped into seven pieces and his face reportedly stitched onto a football.
El Chapo’s war with the Los Zetas cartel has been responsible for the escalation in violence and as British street gangs adopt the use of acid attacks, and with knife and gun crime rising, law enforcement agencies will be alert to the threat of Mexico’s violence and weapons following its cocaine.
Thanks for reading.