Weapons for cocaine: an operation against the Italian mafia revealed a surprising exchange route to Latin America

Photos of the weapons Fotia got from Pakistan. italian police

A arms trafficking from pakistan to brazil which represents an absolutely new and unprecedented path for Latin America. This is what emerges from the operation eurekacoordinated by Europol, the European Police Agency. An international network of the ‘Ndrangheta in Germany, Italy, France, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Romania, Brazil and Panama. 132 arrests, 15 of them in Italy.

The ‘Ndrangheta is one of the most important mafias in the world, controls almost all cocaine trafficking in Europe and bills at least 70,000 million dollars a year. It has intermediaries throughout Latin America to buy drugs at the best price and in cash.

The network discovered by Europol was run by some “ndranghetista” families from saint lucaItalian town in the province of Reggio Calabriaknown for a violent feud between mafia families that led to massacres like the one in Duisburg, Germany, in 2007.

Pakistani connection

But what does Pakistan have to do with Latin America? Among the Italians arrested for drug trafficking in the Eureka operation is the Calabrian Pietro FotiaResident in savona, north of Italy. According to Anti-Mafia Investigative Directorate (DIA) Italian, Fotia collaborated with Rocco Morabito, known as Tamunga, one of the most important cocaine intermediaries of the ‘Ndrangheta in Latin America. Arrested in Uruguay in 2017 after 23 years on the run, Morabito escaped from Montevideo prison again in 2019 to be arrested in Brazil in 2021 and extradited to Italy in 2022. Arms trafficking between Brazil and Pakistan, mediated by the ‘Ndrangheta Italian, would have started between 2019 and 2021, that is, during his last period of flight in Brazil.

Rocco Morabito's Criminal File
Rocco Morabito’s arrest warrant file (AFP)

While Morabito had important contacts with the main Brazilian criminal groups, from the Red Command (CV) until First Capital Command (PCC) Fotia, according to the DIA, was the liaison with Pakistan. Photos published on the Italian news site Savona News They show Fotia in Milan in 2015 kissing the hands of Pakistani Mohammad Tahir ul-Qadri, also known as Sheykh ul-Islam, founder and leader of the international ‘Minhaj ul-Qurʾān’ (MQI), an organization with branches and centers in more from 90 countries around the world, including in Latin America.

In the 1980s, ul Qadri made headlines for supporting the ayatollah’s fatwa Ruhollah Khomeini against the writer of Indian origin Salman Rushdie. For his novel “The Satanic Verses”, Khomeini issued a death sentence that was valid throughout the world. According to Savona News, Fotia had gone as a businessman to an event organized by the MQI to meet with ul-Qadri with the aim of “talking about Islam and integration”.

guns and cocaine

But let’s go back to Brazil. According to the DIA, the arms trafficking from Pakistan to Brazil mediated by the ‘Ndrangheta, which always communicated on encrypted Sky ECC devices, was paid for by criminal groups from Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo with cocaine that the ‘Ndrangheta brought to Europe through the ports of Gioia Taurus and Rotterdam. Weapons, in short, in exchange for coke. According to the messages revealed by the DIA and published by the Corriere della Calabria in January 2021, Pietro Fotia wrote that he was organizing a container loaded with “kala”, or Kalashnikov.

“Brazilians want weapons, big weapons” Morabito had written to Fotia, who had sent photos, also published by Corriere della Calabria, indicating the weapons he might have from his Pakistani contacts. Among the countries from which the weapons came, the Fotia sheet reads, were China, Pakistan, Russia, United States and probably Iran (on the sheet, where there are misspellings in Italian, Kiran wrote).

Weapons list. italian police

According to investigative sources, the ‘Ndrangheta bought weapons in Pakistan paying in yuan, as the Chinese currency is absolutely spendable in Pakistan due to Beijing’s strong presence in the country. The weapons that the Italians bought for their Brazilian clients were, according to the investigation, of double origin.

On the one hand, they came from old arsenals dating back to the Afghan war against the Russian invasion, weapons delivered by the United States to Pakistan.

On the other, they were US weapons that the Taliban had seized after the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan on August 31, 2021. In fact, the Taliban, running out of money frozen abroad, to make cash they began to sell the weapons, ammunition and various war machines that the Americans had delivered to the Afghan National Army.

In particular, according to intelligence sources, it is the powerful Haqqani Network the one in charge of arms trafficking from Afghanistan to Pakistan. The Haqqani Network is a group of Islamic insurgents active in Afghanistan and Pakistan with close ties to the Taliban. It is named after his founder, Jalaluddin Haqqani, who ran it before his death in 2018 alongside his son Sirajuddin. It is considered a terrorist organization by the United Nations. We are talking about a constant traffic of thousands of assault rifles and ammunition that travel continuously from Afghanistan to Pakistan to flood the world with weapons. The last seizure was five days ago, 88 assault rifles and 600 boxes of ammunition at the border with Pakistan.


Assault rifles are precisely among the weapons most sought after by Brazilian criminal groups due to their easy maintenance and the territorial control they allow, especially in the favelas. There is no national production and this explains the frantic search for new smuggling routes. A report from the Brazilian television program Fantástico Balloon denounced in 2017 how 300 AK-47s were seized in a single year in Rio alone.

The routes indicated in the report were of two types. The kalashnikov they left China and Eastern Europe to legally enter the United States, where there is also local production, and from there by ship or plane they arrived at Chile, Bolivia and Paraguay to then enter Brazil illegally. The other route indicated by the report departed directly from the United States.

The weapons are displayed in an office of the Russian arms manufacturer Kalashnikov.  REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
The weapons are displayed in an office of the Russian arms manufacturer Kalashnikov. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov (MAXIM SHEMETOV/)

In 2017, a Brazilian police operation dismantled a network of 16 people who, between 2014 and 2017, imported Miami thousand weapons and some 300,000 rounds of ammunition destined for carioca criminal groups. In 2017, at the Galeão airport in Rio de Janeiro, in containers containing pool heaters, customs authorities discovered 60 assault rifles AK-47, GR3 and AR-10 and 140 bullets.

Behind this network was the Brazilian Frederick Barbieri, who ran it from Florida. Considered the biggest arms trafficker in Brazil, he was sentenced to almost 13 years in prison by the US authorities who, in February 2018, had found 52 rifles, 49 of them with the serial number erased, in one of his warehouses in Vero Beach in Florida.

Last year another arms trafficking network was discovered between Miami and Rio de Janeiro with the Florida Heat operation. The weapons arrived via containers and postal packages and entered Brazil from three states: Amazonas, Saint Paul and Saint Catherine with final destination always Rio de Janeiro.

The novelty of this operation was the discovery of 3D printers with which the parts of the weapons sent from the United States were assembled in Brazil. In addition, for a month the Brazilian police have been chasing a group of criminals on the run linked to the PCC, who on April 9 attacked a security transport company in Confresa, in the state of Mato Grosso. In the escape, 16 criminals died.

When analyzing their weapons, it was discovered that two 7.62 caliber SCAR rifles used by them were the property of the São Paulo Military Police. The question then arises as to how they could have ended up in the hands of the PCC, but the investigation by the Military Police is still underway, so there is no answer at the moment. What is certain is that on November 5, 2021, the 3rd Company of the 1st Battalion of the Santos Rodoviaria Police, on the coast of São Paulo, suffered the theft of six rifles, two of them SCAR 7.62 caliber , which could be the same ones found in this desperate chase.

The discovery now of this new route from Pakistan to Brazil opens up new scenarios and raises the alert. In fact, terrorist groups could also use it to transport weapons and explosives directly from Pakistan for attacks not only in Latin America, but also in the neighboring United States.

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