Like going back to the 80’s. Panama location vital to drug trade.


The Spanish Civil Guard and Europol on Monday dismantled a “super cartel” of drugs that controlled a third of the cocaine traffic that entered the old continent.

According to investigations by the Spanish Civil Guard, the drug supplier was a Panamanian living in Dubai who the authorities classify as one of the six “drug lords” who controlled and directed the criminal activities of the various cells, under the conviction of being in a sanctuary where they felt untouchable and which in turn allowed them to maintain a high standard of living.

Spanish media presumably identify the Panamanian with the name of Anthony Alfredo Martínez Meza, the person responsible for introducing the drug into the port of Manzanillo (Panama) and who also maintained contacts with the rest of the barons in the emirate.

Although Martínez, according to the European authorities, was the connection to supply drugs to Europeans and that a significant percentage of the containerized drugs trafficked from Panama are destined for Saudi Arabia, this man seemed to be off the radar of the Panamanian authorities. Intelligence seems to focus on gangs or local structures as logistical devices to receive merchandise from Colombia and its subsequent export.

The name of Anthony Alfredo Martínez appears in the Public Registry as a director of various corporations. One is Machina Supply International, Inc, created in 2009. He is also a director of JPM, Int, SA (2014) and Francisco Martínez, SA (2000), all based in the province of Colón and in which the named holds several management positions. In some he shares management with other people who, in turn, have investments in the Atlantic sector of the country.

The latter company owns a 9,000-meter farm in the province of Coclé, landlocked. It appears to be land that the company acquired for $1,000 in 2012 through a mortgagee.

All the mentioned companies are current in the payment of taxes.

Destination, match points

13% of the drugs that leave Panamanian ports are destined for Saudi Arabia, as confirmed to La Estrella de Panamá by an intelligence source from the National Aeronaval Service (Senan).

The agent assured this medium that 95% of the drugs that arrive in Colón, from Colombia, leave through the ports and have 25% Belgium as their main destination, Rotterdam, the Netherlands 19%, Italy 13% and Barcelona 6%, in addition Dubai, which belongs to the United Arab Emirates. This drug leaves through the Panamanian Pacific and Atlantic ports.

In these same countries, the Spanish Civil Guard, within the framework of the international police operation ‘Desert Light’, coordinated by Europol and in which police agencies from the Netherlands, France, Belgium and Dubai also participated, managed to dismantle the super network of drug trafficking and apprehended 49 people, including the six drug lords, high-value targets based in Dubai.

International media identify the Bosnian Edin Gacanin, Zouhair Blekahir, Hoesny Ajaray and Rabhioui Bourfa, the last three of North African descent, and the British Ryan James Hale as the bosses of this organization that established its base in these countries, coinciding with the location of the most important European ports, the gateway for drugs to Europe, and the destinations for drugs leaving Panama.

An operation was key to finding Panama. Faukas, under the arm of the Spanish Civil Guard in March 2020, which had simultaneous performances in Malaga, Madrid and Barcelona in which they seized 698 kilos of cocaine, but without those responsible until then.

This motivated a broad exchange of information with other countries that paid off by identifying the people responsible for the introduction of the container, as well as its “contamination” at its source, Panama.

In this way, the Spanish authorities verified how Spain had become the headquarters of a cell of the criminal organization that introduced drugs through various ports and, in turn, had formed a complex corporate network of real estate investments in the Costa del Sol area. in order to launder the profits obtained from drug trafficking.

Images from the operation show as part of the forfeited assets a range of late-model sports cars, fine watches, cash, motorcycles and luxury real estate.

In the course of the investigation, more than 30 tons of cocaine were confiscated, which were intended to flood Europe with this drug and which, together with the estimates made by Europol, could account for a third of the total market, which makes the cartel a true whale in the world of global drug trafficking.

The actions of the European agencies and Dubai collapsed the logistical structure, represented by the criminal groups responsible for the introduction of the drug in each country, as well as decapitating the organization.

In Panama, the ports have become the safest route for traffickers, given the connections managed locally by two criminal groups that are in charge of receiving, moving and protecting the merchandise while it is on Panamanian soil.

The Senan source explained that once the drug reaches the Panamanian coast, it can enter the ports in two ways: one is through a company, or a yard, where the container is transformed into a false bottom. The drug is introduced and then the container is brought into the port. They have previously coordinated a container en route to Europe at the port.

Once in the port, they remove the drug from the contaminated box and transfer it to the container with the desired destination.

They violate the customs stamp because they have spare stamps. Everything is previously coordinated. “They control everything inside the port, from the security guards to the operators,” says the Senan source. They know the blind spots of cameras installed in ports.

In an operation, he adds, 10 people who work in the port could participate.

Once the container is found in the port yard, they place it in such a way that the container wall does not allow visibility, in order to introduce the drug into the destination crate. Once the box is contaminated, everyone knows that it is time to move it to transport it. Everyone benefits.

The idea is to look for cold routes that do not arouse suspicion. In this way, a ship from the United States is located, for example, a country that receives drugs, which passes through the Canal and docks in a Pacific or Atlantic port. Once the criminal network identifies the route to Europe, it becomes contaminated. “Normally no one checks that, because it is believed that it is a route that is not under the radar of the drug traffickers,” said the source, although he clarified that this has changed. The authorities have begun to detect them under a new lens.

Until last November 15, the Panamanian authorities had seized more than 28 tons of drugs during 2022 in the ports of both coasts of the isthmus.

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