Tag Archives: cocaine

Cocaine investigation leads to discovery of 2 Van Gogh paintings

Police investigating suspected Italian mobsters for cocaine trafficking discovered two Vincent Van Gogh paintings hidden in a farmhouse near Naples, masterpieces that had vanished in 2002 during a nighttime heist at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, authorities said this past week.

The two paintings were “considered among the artworks most searched for in the world, on the FBI’s list of the Top 10 art crimes,” Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said.

They were found in a farmhouse near Castellammare di Stabia as Italian police seized some 20 million euros ($22 million) worth of assets, including farmland, villas and apartments and a small airplane.

Investigators contend those assets are linked to two Camorra drug kingpins, Mario Cerrone and Raffaele Imperiale, according to a statement by prosecutors Giovanni Colangelo and Filippo Beatrice.

The recovered masterpieces, propped up on easels, were unveiled for reporters at a news conference in Naples.

Museum director Axel Rueger said Italian investigators contacted the museum earlier in the week and art experts determined the paintings were authentic.

“Needless to say, it’s a great day for us today,” Rueger told Sky TG24 TV. “We hope they are soon back where they belong.”

With their frames removed and covered by cotton cloths, the paintings appeared to be in relatively good condition despite their long odyssey, the museum said.

One of the paintings, the 1882 “Seascape at Scheveningen,” is one of Vincent Van Gogh’s first major works.

It depicts a boat setting off into a stormy sea, and the thick paint trapped grains of sand that blew up from the Dutch beach as Van Gogh worked on it over two days.

The other is a 1884-85 work, “Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen,” which depicts a church in the southern Netherlands where the artist’s father was the pastor.

Experts believe it was done for Van Gogh’s mother.

Despite the wishes of the museum, the paintings are not leaving Italy anytime soon. They are evidence in an investigation of whether gangsters from the Camorra crime syndicate were behind the original theft or might have become involved with the artworks later.

The Camorra is one of Italy’s three largest organized crime syndicates, with the Calabria-based ‘ndrangheta by far the most powerful. The Camorra consists of many crime clans, based in Naples as well as many of the Campania region’s small towns.

Financial Police. Col. Giovanni Salerno said investigators looking into the syndicate’s cocaine trafficking operations got a tip that the Camorra might have the Van Gogh artworks.

“One of those being investigated made some significant comments about their illegal investments made with earnings from drug trafficking, and he indicated two paintings of great value that supposedly were purchased by Imperiale. They were the result of a theft carried out in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam almost 14 years ago,” Colangelo, the chief prosecutor in Naples, told reporters.

When renowned masterpieces are stolen, it’s usually a theft commissioned by a private collector who has already agreed to buy them, since it’s virtually impossible to sell them in the legitimate art market.

The Camorra and other Italian crime syndicates, awash in illegal revenues from drug trafficking, designer-goods counterfeiting and toxic waste dealings, are increasingly looking to launder their dirty profits and make even more money in the process.

Salerno said a person at the farmhouse when the paintings were found “didn’t say a word” about how they wound up there. He declined to elaborate, saying the case is still under investigation.

The museum said the paintings, inspected by a curator, do show “some damage.” Authorities don’t know where the paintings were kept in the 14 years since they were stolen by thieves who broke into the museum overnight and made off with the works from the main exhibition hall, where dozens of Van Gogh paintings were on display.

The seascape painting had some paint in the bottom left corner broken away, while the other painting had “a few minor damages at the edges of the canvas,” a museum statement said.

Police who arrived at the Amsterdam museum on Dec. 7, 2002, discovered a 4.5-meter (15-foot) ladder leaning against the rear of the building.

The thieves had apparently climbed up to the second floor using a ladder and broke in through a window, according to Dutch police at the time. Within a year, Dutch authorities had arrested two suspects, but the paintings’ whereabouts remained a mystery _ until Italian authorities searched the farmhouse.

“After all these years, you no longer dare count on a possible return,” Rueger said. “The paintings have been found! That I would be able to ever pronounce these words is something I had no longer dared to hope for.”

Van Gogh's "Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen." — PHOTO: WikiArt
Van Gogh’s “Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen.” — PHOTO: WikiArt

Spanish police arrest woman smuggling cocaine in her breast implants

Spanish police say they have arrested a woman who landed at Madrid’s international airport with 1.7 kilos (3.7 pounds) of cocaine hidden in her breast implants.

Narcotics agents grew suspicious when the 43-year-old Venezuelan woman exhibited unspecified strange behavior during a routine screening of passengers who had just arrived from Bogota, Colombia.

A luggage search showed nothing unusual. But a frisk by female officers revealed irregularities and deformations in both of the suspect’s breasts.

The passenger then “became nervous and confessed to carrying cocaine implants,” a police statement said Friday.

The suspected drug smuggler was transferred to a hospital where she was detained for an alleged crime against public health, the statement says.

Spain employs a police unit to specifically check passenger arrivals from major drug-producing countries.

Uruguayan pot marketplace may go up in smoke

Uruguay’s plan to create the world’s first national, government-regulated marketplace for legal pot may be going up in smoke.

Delays in implementing the plan are putting it at risk as polls point to opposition gains in October’s election and say most Uruguayans oppose a legal pot marketplace. Opposition politicians have said they will seek to repeal or modify the legislation, which gives the national government power to oversee the production, sales and consumption of marijuana.

“I am convinced that the current project is never going to be applied,” the principal opposition presidential candidate, Luis Lacalle Pou, told The Associated Press. “The entire project is not workable. The pharmacies don’t want to sell the drug and nobody is going to register as a user, as the law obliges.”

The legislation, which went into effect in May, allows for the growing of pot by licensed individuals, the formation of growers and users clubs, the sale by pharmacies of 40 grams of pot a month to registered users and the tracking of legally grown marijuana through a system of genetic markers of authorized plants.

President Jose Mujica and his Broad Front movement have promoted the plan as a way to deal with rising homicide and crime rates associated with drug trafficking and the increasing use of crack cocaine. In the last 13 years, the homicide rate in Uruguay has increased by 21 percent and the rate of violent robbery by 250 percent. Officials say a legal pot market could provide an alternative to crack and reduce the power of drug gangs.

“The appearance of drug trafficking signified a brutal cultural change in the world of crime and a nearly absolute disregard for the value of life,” Mujica told the AP in May. “So we decided to try to snatch away a part of that market.”

It wasn’t until late July, almost three months after the pot law went into effect, that the government made its first call for applications from those interested in growing pot for the legal market. It said after registration closes Aug. 18, bidders will be winnowed to a short list of candidates, from which up to five will be chosen to get a license for legal cultivation.

Officials have given conflicting dates for when the drug might reach pharmacies, ranging from late this year to sometime in 2015.

Experts say the delays are due to the fact that no other country has attempted such a plan and that authorities still lack detailed plans and rules for creating the market. Disagreements within the government over basic aspects of the proposal are also holding things back.

Opposition Colorado Party presidential candidate Pedro Bordaberry said, “The entire project is one big improvisation.”

The man in charge of the program, Julio Calzada, has dismissed concerns, insisting the bids to select growers will be a success “and the project will go forward.”

While Mujica’s marijuana plan was widely applauded globally and seen as going beyond marijuana legislation in the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington, most Uruguayans oppose it. The most recent poll said only 27 percent of Uruguayans surveyed approve of the law and 64 percent oppose it. Sixty-two percent said they want the law repealed. The survey by the polling firm Cifra questioned 1,001 people between July 4 and 15 and had an error margin of three percentage points.

“People are against drugs and don’t distinguish between them,” said Adriana Raga, director of Cifra. “For a small, educated sector — very small — marijuana is something special. But for the great majority of Uruguayans, all drugs are bad and marijuana is another bad drug, the same as base (cocaine) paste.”

With elections nearing, politicians are paying heed to public opinion. The top opposition candidates are supporting repeal or modification of the law.

Polls indicate a tight race in October congressional and presidential elections between the Broad Front and the opposition. None of the seven presidential candidates appears capable of getting enough votes to win outright in the first round. That would set up a runoff on the last Sunday in November between the two top vote-getters.

For the law to be out of peril, the Broad Front has to win both the presidency and a majority in congress, which it currently barely controls.

“The data that we now have does not show this is happening,” said Raga of Cifra. “There are still three months of campaigning to go, but as of today it is not our hypothesis.”

Uruguay’s main polling companies say around 40 percent of Uruguayans intend to vote for the leftist governing coalition, which would need almost 50 percent to keep its grip on the legislature.

Lacalle Pou, who is second in the presidential race, has said he would try to repeal the articles of the law that allow for the sale of marijuana in pharmacies. Other factions in his conservative National Party want to overturn the law altogether.

Even the far-left Popular Unity coalition has said its legislators might oppose the legislation if they are elected.

“Commercialization (of marijuana) by the state is the wrong road to take,” said Pablo Mieres, presidential candidate for the fourth-place Independent Party. “Decriminalization is a road that has to be taken on the international level. A country can’t do it alone.”

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Germans intercept cocaine-filled condom headed for Vatican

The drug haul was unremarkable, but the destination raised eyebrows.

German customs officials intercepted a shipment of cocaine destined for the Vatican in January, weekly Bild am Sonntag reported Sunday.

Officers at Leipzig airport found 340 grams (12 ounces) of the drug packed into 14 condoms inside a shipment of cushions coming from South America, according to a German customs report. It said the package was simply addressed to the Vatican postal office, meaning any of the Catholic mini-state’s 800 residents could have picked it up.

The paper reported that a subsequent sting operation arranged with Vatican police failed to nab the intended recipient. No one claimed the package, indicating that he or she was tipped off about the plan. The drugs would have a street value of several tens of thousands of euros.

A spokesman for the German Finance Ministry, which oversees the customs office, confirmed the report. Prosecutors in Leipzig planned to issue a statement providing further details, Martin Chaudhuri told the Associated Press.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi confirmed that the Vatican police had cooperated with German police in an attempt to identify the traffickers. He said the investigation remained open.

Frolic on the right

Author Joe McGinniss’ highly anticipated book about Sarah Palin includes details on the former veep candidate’s alleged sexual relationship with former basketball star Glen Rice while she was courting current husband Todd Palin. In the book, McGinniss quotes Rice as confirming the one-night stand. The book also confirms a longstanding rumor that Palin had an extramarital affair with her husband’s ex-business partner Brad Hanson and that she dabbled with cocaine use.

Another one bites the dust

New York City police said the Rev. Zachery Tims of Orlando was found dead on the floor of his room at the W Hotel in Times Square. Police found a glassine envelope with a white powdery substance inside the right pocket of his shorts. The substance is being tested to see “whether it played a role in Mr. Tims’ death,” officers told The Wall Street Journal.

Tims was the senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Fla., one of the largest congregations in the region. He also hosted and appeared on Christian television and radio programs.

Green Bay Senate candidate denies smoking crack

David VanderLeest, the Republican running against state Sen. Dave Hansen in tomorrow’s Wisconsin recall election, denies reports that he smokes crack cocaine, Talking Points Memo reports. VanderLeest has been dogged with questions about his personal finances and domestic violence charges.

“I read a social services report yesterday that says I smoke crack,” VanderLeest recently told Wisconsin Public Radio host Joy Cardin. “None of it’s true. I don’t smoke rocks, and that’s the truth.”

Crack cocaine is frequently referred to as “rock” by users. VanderLeest said the allegation that he smoked crack comes from a report filed by a social worker in relation to a domestic violence charge filed against him.

VanderLeest has been arrested at least four times, including for child abuse and beating up his ex-wife. He has pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct.

VanderLeest said the debate over his police record and shady past is being used by Democrats to distract voters from the party’s stances on such issues as abortion, gun rights and documentation for immigrants.

VanderLeest did acknowledge that he was “drunk and under the influence, and I flipped out” at the time of a domestic abuse incident. He’s refused to discuss whether he’s paid taxes or received financial assistance from the state.

“You know, I sleep well at night, and that’s the reality of the situation,” he said.

The GOP’s preferred candidate to run against Hansen was state Rep. John Nygren, who failed to submit the 400 valid petition signatures required to get him on the ballot. Republicans gathered 18,000 signatures to trigger the recall election

A cracked tale

When sheriff’s deputies allegedly discovered bags of marijuana and cocaine between a man’s buttocks in Florida, they say he gave a quick explanation.

Manatee County deputies say Raymond Stanley Roberts told them, “The white stuff is not mine, but the weed is.”

Deputies stopped the 25-year-old in Bradenton for speeding. Officers say they smelled marijuana and searched him. That’s when they allegedly found a bag of marijuana between Roberts’ buttocks. Officers then discovered another bag in there that contained 27 pieces of rock cocaine, according to a police report.

No word on who owned the crack or how it got in Roberts’ crack.