World's most powerful drug syndicate eliminated by Russian intelligence
In the evening of April 26, a passenger plane landed in a Moscow airport with handcuffed 58-year-old Dutch citizen Guido Wolters on the board. Russian investigators have been waiting for this moment for almost 20 years: Wolters is the last boss of an international drug gang who organized a cocaine supply chain from South America to the US. Russia was a transshipment base in this scheme.
The story began with an agreement between two criminal lords: a Russian nouveau riche and an English gangster.
Vadim Petrov, born in Tbilisi, came to Moscow in the dashing 1990s and started to make money actively by all possible means: he had interests in development market, he was engaged in trade (he had a network of tents at VDNKh complex), was a shareholder of the companies Moskol and Monacall ... But at the same time, he was very interested in criminal projects with huge profits.
In 1996, he launched production of Mandrax drug with the use of methaqualone and diphenhydramine (a recreational drug used in substitution therapy) in a laboratory outside Moscow. In Russia and several other countries, this remedy was removed from the list of recipe-free drugs in the 1970s, after side effects of the drug were discovered. It caused severe addiction and even death in combination with alcohol.
Raw materials to Petrov's laboratory were smuggled from China, tablets were manufactured with the use of machines purchased in the UAE. Some call Petrov the Russian Walter White from Breaking Bad popular series. He personally controlled all the process of manufacturing drugs: he searched for recipes in special chemistry books which he took from the Lenin Library (the biggest historic library of the Soviet times located in the center of Moscow).
In order to avoid prison, he decided to sell the drugs abroad. He mostly delivered the goods to Mozambique, Malawi (coastal states connected with South and South-East Asia). Africa also showed demand for tablets, but the major share of batch of goods was sent to India. The drugs were also supplied to Romania as a transit to Europe. It is most likely that Petrov chose countries where he had reliable connections with customs.
Vadim Petrov (center), Leo Francis Morgan with wife, Oleg Titov (on the right). Mexico, 1998
Petrov is believed to be very ambitious, his assistants called him The Great or Lvovich.
The pharmaceutical business was going strong, so Petrov decided to expand the geography of his sales. Seeking for partners, he met with bandits from Liverpool, who introduced him to their boss Leo Francis Morgan. He supplied almost all of Europe with Colombian cocaine. Negotiations of international drug traffickers were held in Mexico.
This happened in 1998 (according to other data a year later). At that time, Morgan began to experience problems with the delivery of goods directly to Europe. Customs began to carefully examine all cargoes from South and Central America, while cargos from Russia caused less suspicion among Europeans.
Morgan, a citizen of Britain, lived in Colombia. He left his career as a boxer and became a bouncer in a Birmingham bar. Soon, he joined ta criminal group and started selling drugs. Very successfully. Later, the UK police suspected him of selling marijuana, so in the early 1990s he fled to Central America, leaving his wife and three children.
There started a new life there and married a daughter of an influential Colombian drug dealer. His father-in-law helped him to take first steps in the intercontinental drug business. Everything went well until in the late 1990s a few huge supplies were intercepted by European customs officers.
Thus, an acquaintance with the Russian businessman Petrov was very handy for Morgan. They decided to transfer cocaine from Central and South America to Russia both by sea trough the ports in the northwest of Russia (St. Petersburg, Vyborg) and by air through Moscow. From Russia, the goods were sent to the UK and the EU countries. One of the final destinations was Liverpool.
Leo Francis Morgan
It is worth noting that Russians took more risks than their partners, as they were expected to receive cargo in the UK. After that, cocaine should be put in a car parked on one of the streets of the city. The British side informed about the location of the car at the last moment.
It is not known how many more tons of elite drugs could be transported to Europe by Russian-British partners unless practical Americans took part in the operation. In 2000, Miami customs police (the cargo was going by sea and passing through the US docks) decided to examine the cargo with molding machines for plastic products. They considered it strange that such common technical devices are carried by sea, and then by a plane to Russia - this would be too pricey for an ordinary businessman. In addition, previous cargo contained the same machines.
The police checked the cargo, drilled a hole and found a cache with cocaine. Officers decided to hide their ‘discovery’ in secret from the cargo owners and contacted Russian authorities. Employees of the anti-drug unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia started a secret surveillance for the cargo.
The businessman and his gang were convicted in September 2004. At that time, the leader of Russian drug traffickers got a record term of 21 years in a strict-regime colony. It was the longest prison term a drug dealer has ever received.
Three other members of his gang got from 18 to 20 years in a colony. Only one of them, Vladislav Dolgiy, received 7 years suspended due to cooperation with the investigation.
He was the first who was detained by Russian law enforcement. He received the cargo with goods from Miami which was under surveillance of the investigation. Vladislav Dolgiy came in a truck to receive the cargo accompanied by Vadim Lavrenov on a BMW, another member of Petrov’s gang. The transshipment base was located in the same warehouse in Moscow suburbs where Petrov produced drugs for Africa and Romania.
In the warehouse, gangsters tore off the logos of Colombia and labeled boxes with the Russian machine-building plant logo. The cargo was prepared for shipment to the UK. All these manipulations were fixed by operatives, who managed to get into the warehouse and inspect the goods.
So, the British side did not get the long-awaited load. ‘Suddenly’, the cargo was detained due to an exceeding level of radiation background.
The delay caused suspicions among the British partners. A confidant of Morgan, Dutchman named Guido, urgently arrived in Moscow.
Criminals decided to act according to plan B: they hid the drug in bags with granulated polyethylene. But the cargo was marked radioactive again.
The third attempt to deliver the goods also failed. On June 12, 2000, police started arrests. Four criminals were detained; Petrov and his confidant Oleg Titov managed to avoid law enforcers. The cautious leader noticed policemen at the entrance of his house and warned his assistant. They managed to leave the country and hid in Ukraine.
Russian investigators informed the British collogues about details of the operation.
Do not envy
By the time of the round-up, Petrov was already a wealthy and famous man. Near-MP of the State Duma from the Otechestvo-Vsya Rossiya electoral bloc was put on the wanted list a few weeks before the mandate was given (he was the third on the list from the regional group of the movement and the one-partyist abandoned the mandate in his favor).
Petrov was charged with getting acquainted with the monarchs of the Principality of Monaco, in this country he had several apartments and houses. He also owned a castle in France, a villa in Spain, a complex of real estate (hotels, casinos, restaurants, resort areas) on the island of Saint Martin in the Caribbean and other property in Russia and abroad for hundreds of millions of US dollars. The cost of just seized consignment of drugs was about $8 million. In total, the illegal trafficking of 200 kg of cocaine was proved. In addition, detectives seized 1.5 tons of synthetic tablets and 2 tons of raw materials for their production - probably this part of the business was much more profitable for Petrov than cocaine with which he was charged.
However, the Russian mob, like his overseas companion Morgan, faced problems. At the first request of the Prosecutor General's Office of Russia Monaco had extradited a fugitive drug lord during the year, and he was later convicted.
Petrov, in addition, became the person of interest for European policemen, who intended to take away everything that was acquired using illegal means. Last year his accomplice Oleg Titov, who for a long time was hiding in the Donbass (Ukraine), was detained. By the way, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia announced an award of 1 million rubles for the information on his whereabouts. However, the investigator, who supervised the drug cartel case, persuaded Titov to surrender.
Morgan faced more grave charges. He was jailed for 24 years in Panama after a cocaine load worth half a billion pounds was found on one of his ranches.
Now he literally survives in the La Joya prison in Panama, known for its harsh mores on the whole planet, where he tries to defend foreign prisoners. In 2014, he managed to survive in a hack and slash, which began during a riot of prisoners, in which more than 60 people died. Morgan managed to send several notes to his relatives. He intends to survive by all means.
Two years earlier, he managed his criminal business directly from the place of detention. In 2012, one of the cocaine consignments, which Morgan supplied, was found in Belgium (possibly after this, Leo faced the stiffening of the detention). According to one version, the story of the Birmingham bouncer inspired the script writers of the popular TV series Prison Break.
After serving his sentence in Panama, Leo faces the imprisonment in Russia or one of the colonies on the territory of the European Union. Policemen from different countries lined up for the English mob
For a long time, only Morgan's clever assistant, Guido Wolters, remained at large. He was the main link between the British patron and Petrov. Most often, he paid with the Russians.
The failure of the drug lords in Belgium five years ago turned out badly for Guido. During the search in the office building, where the headquarters of the drag dealers were located, the police found a passport with a photograph of Wolters. It became clear that the Dutch was lying low somewhere near Brussels. However, the police did not have enough evidence to accuse Wolters of drug trafficking.
But then Russian investigators sent their request, with which they managed to persuade Petrov to cooperate. He gave testimony against both Wolters and Morgan, detailing the roles of each concerning the supply of cocaine to Russia.
Investigators of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor General's Office worked for several years to demand the extradition of drug cartel last member, Guido Guilermo Wolters, and achieved their goal.
“Today, on April 24, the relevant authorities of the Kingdom of Belgium are extraditing citizen of the Kingdom of the Netherlands Guido Wolters to Russia at the request of the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office. He is charged with the creation of a criminal network and illegal drug trafficking. According to investigators, Wolters as a member of the criminal gang was extensively trafficking drugs from South American countries through Russia to the United Kingdom. The drug ring supplied cocaine both to the UK and Northern Ireland. Accompanied by the staff of the Interpol National Central Bureau of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia, he was taken to Moscow," official representative of the Interior Ministry Irina Volk said.
Major general Igor Vasiliev, Head of the Engineering Support Service of the Federal Protection Service (FPS), and lieutenant general Ulitin subordinate to him are currently in the middle of a scandal. However, it is unlikely that they lose their posts. Reportedly, the two generals are just the tip of the huge corruption iceberg in the law enforcement structures. This is not the first embezzlement episode in their careers.