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August 19, 2021

No longer a teflon don, Raffaele Imperiale has been arrested in Dubai and is awaiting extradition

In October 2019 the US Drug Enforcement Administration sent documents to the Dutch police documenting a 2017 meeting between drug traffickers held at the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai.  Those in attendance at this convocation are believed to control one of the world's fifty largest drug cartels, holding a virtual monopoly over all Peruvian cocaine and controlling approximately one third of Europe's total cocaine trade. 

The men in attendance included:

  • Raffaele Imperiale, a convicted narco boss to the Camorra and a fugitive from justice on Italy's most wanted list since 2016, 
  • Ridouan Taghi, the alleged head of the Mocro Mafia, a Dutch-Moroccan criminal organisation, 
  • Daniel Kinahan, named in Dublin’s High Court as a senior fugure in the Kinahan cartel, a group involved in attempting to ship €35m of cocaine disguised as charcoal from South America Republic of Ireland in July,
  • and Edin Gačanin, a Bosnian drug trafficker who purportedly heads up the Balkan Tito and Dino Cartel which has a strong footprint in Dubai as well as the Netherlands.

On 19 December 2019 Ridouan Taghi was the first of the four to hear the clang of a cell door.  Expelled from the United Arab Emirates as an undesirable foreigner at the request of the authorities in Dubai, Taghi is currently being held at Nieuw Vosseveld, a maximum-security prison in Vught, as his court case proceeds in the Morego trail. The Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security believe Taghi to be the head of a major cocaine smuggling operation and to have had a hand in at least 11 gangland-related murders as well as a series of attempted murders, one of which, the assassination of journalist Peter R. de Vries, may have been ordered after Taghi was already in custody.

Raffaele Imperiale's arrest, announced officially today, but which actually occurred on the 4th of August, should make Kinahan and Gačanin nervous. 

Imperiale was arrested by Dubai law enforcement authorities, as officers in the Emirates coordinated their actions with Italian investigations initiated by the Naples Public Prosecutor's Office and entrusted to the city's G.I.C.O. (Organized Crime Investigation Group), the Mobile Squad of the Naples Police Headquarters, the Central Services of the Guardia di Finanza and Italy's State Police.  Externally,  international judicial cooperation involved coordination with Italy's Ministry of Justice working closely with the International Police Cooperation Service, Interpol and Europol for the multi-nation police action.

A long term boss who came up in the drug trafficking trade working with the Naples-based Camorra-affiliated Amato-Pagano clan, Raffaele Imperiale, who has lived in Dubai since 2010, is known on ARCA's blog for having purchased two stolen Van Gogh paintings: View of the Sea at Scheveningen, 1882 and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, 1884 - 1885, taken during a brazen nighttime theft at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam on December 7, 2002.  

In 2016, as if to underscore his wealth, as well as his sense of impunity while sitting comfortable in Dubai, Imperiale wrote a six-page written statement/confession which he then sent from the UAE to Naples prosecutors, Vincenza Marra, Stefania Castaldi and Maurizio De Marco, along with the deputy prosecutor Filippo Beatrice and the prosecutor of the National Anti-Mafia Directorate, Maria Vittoria De Simone.   In his lengthy missive, Imperiale implied that he had decided to collaborate with justice by agreeing to give up his "treasure" to the state and outlining various aspects of his organization's early involvement in the drug trade.  In an extract of that letter, Imperiale says:

In addition to giving up the location of the stolen paintings, Imperiale's property, which would later be confiscated, included thirteen terraced villas in Terracina, as well as twelve villas in Giugliano, five of which were, ironically, subleased out to NATO under a shell corporation.  In addition to the real estate, Imperiale jokingly added that he planned to leave the Italian state with a fleet of expensive cars: 

"to be allocated to law enforcement agencies for the fight against organized crime."  

While the stolen Van Goghs were successfully recovered in September 2016 in a villa occupied by Imperiale's parents in Castellamare di Stabia, it would be less than a year later, when the DEA had intel on the 2017 meeting held at the Dubai five-star hotel.  Imperiale was still in the business of underworld dealing and banked on the fact that no extradition treaty between Italy and the UAE had been entered into force. Despite his letter to the Italian prosecutors, he displayed no real intent at leaving behind a criminal career build on the multinational trade in illegal drugs.

If anything, with two of his Dubai-based cartel friends, Taghi and Kinahan, settling down in the country with him, Imperiale seemed to have upped his game in the gulf,  even as the Italian courts sentenced him in abstensia to 18 years behind bars for drug trafficking and money laundering [19 January 2017].

In April 2019, still on the lam in Dubai, Imperiale's sentence of 18 years in prison was reduced to less than half that, purportedly because of a miscalculation by the Italian sentencing judge, given that the fugitive don had "voluntarily" relinquished twenty million euros in assets (the value of the Van Goghs excluded).  

More recently, investigators have evidence that seems to show that Raffaele Imperiale had a business relationship with a brutal enforcer working for the Mocro Mafia in their brutal turf war; a Chilean criminal by the name of Richard Eduardo Riquelme Vega, who was arrested in Santiago in December 2017 after arriving from Dubai and extradited to the Netherlands.  Vega, known as "El Rico" (the rich one) is believed to be responsible for the beheading of Nabil Amzieb, whose severed head was left in front Café Fayrouz in Amsterdam in 2016.

Since then, Vega has been convicted of operating an assassination ring and laundering the proceeds of crime.  It was from "El Rico" Vega's phone that investigators extracted a video that showed the enforcer with Imperiale and Daniel Kinahan together in Dubai as well as a large number of encrypted messages between the South American and Ridouan, among others, in which there is said to have been communication about the liquidation of rivals. 

Gathering evidence in their investigation into Vega's role in the Mocro organisation, law enforcement officers were also able to retrieve encrypted messages between Vega and Imperiale.  In one conversation it is alleged that the pair discussed business in Amsterdam. In another, how to eliminate an inconvenient rival broker in Dubai.

In the meanwhile, the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty in criminal matters between the Government of the Italian Republic and the Government of the United Arab Emirates, done in Abu Dhabi on 16 September 2015 and the extradition treaty between the governments of Italy and the UAE, moved forward. Ultimately, and after ratification was authorized by law n. 125 of October11, 2018, the bilateral agreements entered into force on April 17, 2019.

For now, it's unclear if additional criminal charges will be filed against Imperiale in Italy, aside from the ones he has already been convicted and sentenced for.   It does seem likely, that as law enforcement compare evidence in connection to these mult-nation investigations that new charges, in addition to his previous Italian convictions, may likely be on Imperiale's horizon. 

Until then, today's press release, issued by the delegation of the Public Prosecutor of Naples, shows us that Imperiale's carefree life of drug and art crime has finally come to a halt, as the Italian Ministry of Justice has announced that it is finalizing the agreements to complete his extradition procedure.

By:  Lynda Albertson