Colombian police arrested William Rafael Vargas Maestre, alias "Canoso"

Authorities in Colombia have arrested one of Spain's "most wanted" suspects and their Spanish counterparts have dismantled a Colombian-led drug trafficking ring, further indication that Colombian groups are looking to deepen their influence in the European country. 

William Rafael Vargas Maestre, alias "Canoso," was arrested at a high-end restaurant earlier this month in the Colombian city of Armenia in the department of Quindío, reported El Tiempo.

Vargas had been on the run since February 2016, when Spanish authorities dismantled a drug ring allegedly run by the Colombian native. He was considered one of Spain's most wanted criminals at the time of his arrest, according to El Tiempo. 

Investigators say Vargas arrived in Spain in the early 2010s to coordinate drug shipments for several Colombian criminal organizations, including the Urabeños. He later teamed up with a chemist to impregnate coal with cocaine while it was still in Colombia, which was then disaggregated in special laboratories once it arrived in Spain. 

"In one month he had revenues of over 5 million euros," or about $5.3 million, a member of Colombia's investigative police force told El Tiempo. 

Spanish authorities have already begun the process to have Vargas extradited, the newspaper reported. 

Authorities in Spain also conducted a recent raid against a drug trafficking network that resulted in the arrests of 24 suspects, 13 of whom are Colombian, El Tiempo reported separately.  

The group, which was allegedly run by a Colombian known as "Tatis," acted as a wholesale supplier for smaller drug trafficking outfits in the city of Zaragoza. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The recent arrests are yet another sign that Colombian drug trafficking organizations and their European satellites are strengthening their presence in Spain. While the country has long served as a launching pad for Colombian groups looking to expand into other parts of Europe, there have previously been reports of a potential incursion by Mexican cartels into the Spanish underworld.  

SEE ALSO: Coverage of European Organized Crime

The size and complexity of the Colombian operations in Spain appear to be increasing as well. In March, Spanish police captured two dozen members of a Colombian drug trafficking ring and seized over 2,400 kilograms of cocaine, in what was described as "one of the most important operations against cocaine trafficking that has been carried out in Spain in recent years." 

There are two patterns that could account for the apparently growing influence of Colombian organized crime in Spain. The first is that Mexican drug trafficking groups have gained greater control of the US market, pushing Colombian organizations to exploit the lucrative European market. The second, more recent shift is the spike in Colombian cocaine production, which is likely enabling traffickers to introduce greater quantities of product into Spain. The effects of Colombia's cocaine boom have already been felt in the United States and other parts of Latin America, so it would not come a surprise if it is having a similar impact in Europe.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Olfato. It is a term used quite often in law enforcement and judicial circles in Central America (and other parts of the world as well). It refers to the sixth sense they have as they see a crime scene, investigate a murder or plow through the paperwork...

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

When someone is murdered in Guatemala, police, forensic doctors and government prosecutors start making their way to the crime scene and a creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucratic machine kicks into gear. Calls are made. Forms are filled out by hand, or typed into computers, or both. Some...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...