SITO Minanco had, reportedly, ditched his past as one of Spain’s most powerful drug barons to work as a parking attendant, following his conditional release from prison in 2016.
But last week’s nationwide sting saw the 62-year-old, real name Jose Ramon Prado Bugallo, re-arrested on suspicion of trying to re-impose himself on the lucrative cocaine trade, along with 20 alleged members of his suspected network
Minanco is from Galicia, a region in Spain’s north-west, whose rugged coastline has proved ideal for trafficking, because of its narrow waterways that wind in-land, which used to be at the forefront of the illegal drug trade.
Minanco was arrested last Monday in the southern city of Algeciras, where he worked as a car-parking attendant, despite living in a villa, complete with swimming pool.
Colombian Enrique Garcia Arango, said to be his right-hand man, was also held, along with the son-in-law of a major Galician hashish-trafficker.
Last Friday, police announced that close to five tonnes (metric tons) of drugs had been seized in the operation, although four people, including two elite police officers, were injured during the arrests.
Investigative journalist Nacho Carretero, who wrote a book on cocaine-trafficking in the region, said: “He could be the most powerful drug-trafficker ever, in Galicia, and Spain.
“He is often compared with Pablo Escobar (the late drug lord) because, just like the Colombian, Sito Minanco was always a man who managed his social relations well, a man who looked after people who worked with him, and who nurtured his image among neighbours.”
Minanco, who owned a Galicia shipyard, is accused of using it as a cover to bring in drugs, said a police source, who refused to be named.
The source said his vessels would meet with boats at sea, coming from Latin America, particularly Colombia, and, allegedly, collecting cocaine to bring to Europe.
“The operations that Sito Minanco oversaw never involved anything under four tonnes of cocaine, of which he would take a 30-40% cut,” said Carretero.
Shortly after his conditional release, judicial authorities re-opened a probe on him and placed him under surveillance, according to the El Mundo daily newspaper.
They believed he was linked to the seizure of 616kg of cocaine in an industrial warehouse, in The Hague, in the Netherlands.
He is also, allegedly, linked to a group of men who tried to transfer close on 900,000 euros in cash, hidden in bags with false bottoms, to Colombia a year ago.
Minanco already jailed twice, in 1991 and 2001, has spent a total of 17 years behind bars.
He is from a family of fishermen in Cambados, Galicia, and he quickly attracted the attention of tobacco smugglers, who noted his prowess at piloting boats.
“From tobacco, he made the step to drugs, especially cocaine,” said Carretero. “Thanks to contacts in Panama, with Colombian drug cartels, they forged an association of trust. And from there, he became a powerful narco.”
Galicia, already used for tobacco-smuggling, became a prime entry-and-exit spot for cocaine in the 1980s.
That was a time when drug barons ruled the roost there, with big houses and flashy cars. Now, though, said Carretero: “They are more discreet, and traffic there has dropped from its previous highs.
“But it still continues, and there are still thousands of kilos of cocaine that enter Galicia every year, distributed throughout Europe.”
At the end of January, Spain’s Interior Ministry said it had doubled its seizures of cocaine in a year, from 15 tonnes in 2016 to 32 tonnes in 2017.
That, it said, represented “40% of all South American cocaine seized in Europe.”
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