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1993: Mafia link in cocaine haul
British customs officials have seized 70m of Colombian cocaine which is thought to be directly linked to the Mafia.

The discovery of more than a quarter of a tonne of cocaine came after British Customs and Excise officials were tipped off by Italian anti-Mafia investigators.

The international operation also involved the help of Colombian police.

More than a tonne of cocaine was seized, 263 kg of it was impounded in Britain and the rest in Sicily where two Italians were arrested.

In Britain two men, from north London and Chelmsford, Essex, were remanded in custody at Ipswich magistrates court charged with smuggling.

A third man was released on police bail.

"This is the first confirmed involvement of the Mafia in drugs smuggling into the UK. The job was the province of the police in Rome and we acted after we received instructions from them," a Customs and Excise spokesman said.

Surveillance

The Colombian merchant vessel, Maipo, travelled directly to Britain and docked at Felixstowe where customs officers had been preparing for their arrival since last week.

Customs officials were in waiting as a container adapted to hide drugs was unloaded on the dock.

The three men were kept under surveillance for two days when they were arrested as they returned to Felixstowe to pick up the drug.

The haul is believed to have originated from one of the world's largest drug cartels - the Medellin in Colombia.

Investigators claim it is unusual for parties from a third country to be involved in smuggling from South America.

They suggest it indicates the Mafia is increasing its grip on the world's drug trade by filling the gap created by the death of the Colombian drugs baron, Pablo Escobar, the head of the Medellin cartel.

He was ambushed and shot by Colombian police earlier this month.

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Bags of cocaine seized by Customs
The first confirmed involvement of Mafia drugs smuggling in the UK


In Context
British, Italian, and Colombian anti-drug officials hailed a new era of international co-operation following the seizure in Britain that partly disrupted Colombia's Cali cartel.

In total, 13 people in three countries were arrested.

The seizure was part of a larger operation by Italian forces to curb the activities of the mafia who had apparently identified Britain as a "safe" place to be on the run.

British detectives said the mafia had established ''cells'' in the country and they were involved in at least nine areas of serious crime, including fraud, arms dealing and drug trafficking.

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