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CRIME

Spain accuses major drug baron of planning comeback

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.

Spain accuses major drug baron of planning comeback
Spanish police seize blocks of cocaine at Algeciras in December 2017. Photo: AFP

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'

BARCELONA ATTACKS

Spain marks five years since Catalonia jihadist attacks

A ceremony was held in Barcelona on Wednesday in memory of 16 people killed in jihadist attacks in the Catalan city and a nearby resort exactly five years ago.

Spain marks five years since Catalonia jihadist attacks

Dozens of people observed a minute’s silence on the tree-lined Las Ramblas boulevard where on August 17, 2017 a van mowed down pedestrians, leaving a trail of death.

As a cellist played a traditional Catalan song, relatives of the victims and officials laid white carnations in front of a memorial plaque marking the spot where the van came to a halt.

Among those attending were Transport Minister Raquel Sánchez, Culture minister Miquel Iceta, the president of the regional government of Catalonia Pere Aragonès, and Barcelona mayor Ada Colau.

“This date used to be just another day in the calendar. Now on August 17 you always wake up with a knot in your stomach,” Colau told public television TVE just before the ceremony.

The attacks, which also left 140 people injured, were carried out by a cell made up mostly of young people of Moroccan descent who grew up in Catalonia. They were claimed by the Islamic State group.

The first attack took place on the famous Ramblas avenue in Barcelona, where a truck rammed into passers-by, killing 14 people, mostly foreign tourists. The youngest victim was a three-year-old boy.

Relatives of victims hold white carnation flowers to place at Las Ramblas Boulevard in Barcelona, on August 17, 2022, as the city marks the fifth anniversary of the 2017 jihadist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils that left 16 people dead. – A van rammed into crowds on Las Ramblas Boulevard in the heart of Barcelona on August 17, 2017, igniting four days of terror. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

The driver, who had killed a 30-year-old man to steal his car while fleeing, was shot dead a few days later by the police.

Several hours after the first attack, five accomplices drove into more pedestrians and stabbed a woman who later died of her injuries in Cambrils, a seaside resort 100 kilometres (60 miles) to the south. All five suspects were shot dead by police.

In a tweet, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said Barcelona and Cambrils had “suffered hate and terror in their streets”.

“Five years later, we remember the victims of these attacks with our sights set on continuing to build a future of peace,” he said.

A Spanish court in 2021 found three men guilty of assisting the perpetrators of the attacks and sentenced them to eight, 46 and 53 years in jail.

But last month, a court reduced by 10 years the sentences of the two men who had received the longest jail terms. The third convict was granted parole in September 2021.

A handful of protesters who accuse the Spanish government of being behind the attacks jeered and chanted during the moment of silence and held up signs that read: “We demand the truth”.

The protest was called by several small Catalan separatist groups and some of the signs held up by the participants had Catalan separatist flags.

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