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Spain accuses major drug baron of planning comeback

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Spain accuses major drug baron of planning comeback
Spanish police seize blocks of cocaine at Algeciras in December 2017. Photo: AFP
09:52 CET+01:00
Since his conditional release from prison in 2016, Sito Minanco had reportedly ditched his past as one of Spain's most powerful drug barons to work as a parking attendant.

But this week, the 62-year-old -- whose real name is Jose Ramon Prado Bugallo -- was re-arrested on suspicion of trying to impose himself once again in the lucrative cocaine trade, along with 20 alleged members of his suspected network in a nationwide sting.

Minanco is from Galicia, a region in Spain's northwest whose rugged coastline has proved ideal for trafficking with narrow waterways that wind in-land, once at the forefront of the illegal drug trade.

He was arrested on Monday in the southern city of Algeciras, where he worked as a parking attendant but lived in a villa with a pool.

His alleged right-hand man Enrique Garcia Arango, a Colombian, was also held, along with the son-in-law of a major Galician hashish trafficker.

On Friday, police announced close to five tonnes of drugs had been seized in the operation.

Four people, including two elite police officers, were injured during the detentions.

He "could be the most powerful drug trafficker ever in Galicia, and Spain," says Nacho Carretero, an investigative journalist who wrote a book on cocaine trafficking in the region.

"He is often compared to 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, who nurtured his image among neighbours."

Minanco owned a shipyard in Galicia which he is accused of using as a cover to bring in drugs, a police source, who refused to be named, told AFP.

The source said his vessels would meet with boats at sea coming from Latin America, particularly Colombia, to allegedly collect cocaine and bring it to Europe.

"The operations that Sito Minanco oversaw never involved anything under 4,000 kilos of cocaine," says Carretero, of which he would take a 30 or 40 percent cut.

Judicial authorities re-opened a probe on him and placed him under surveillance shortly after his conditional release, according to the El Mundo daily.

They believed he was linked to the seizure of 616 kilos 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 to 900,000 euros in cash to Colombia in February 2017, hidden in bags with false bottoms.

Sito Minanco had already been jailed twice, in 1991 and 2001, and spent a total of 17 years behind bars.

From a family of fishermen in Cambados, Galicia, he quickly drew the attention of tobacco smugglers who noted his prowess at piloting boats.

"From tobacco he made the step to drugs, especially cocaine," says Carretero.

"Thanks to contacts in Panama, with Colombian drug cartels, they forged an association of trust and from there, he became a powerful narco."

Already the scene of tobacco smuggling, Galicia 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, they are more discreet and traffic there has dropped from its previous highs, says Carretero.

"But it still continues, and there are still thousands of kilos of cocaine that enter Galicia every year, distributed throughout Europe," he adds.

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 percent of all South American cocaine seized in Europe."

READ ALSO: Spain seizes 1.2 tonnes of cocaine and dismantles 'international drug trafficking network'

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