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Revealed: How Kinahan cartel ally Raffaele Imperiale laundered drug money by buying solid gold

Raffaele Imperiale and Daniel Kinahan

Imperiale's arrest

Bounties have been placed on the heads of the Kinahans

Sunday World

Kinahan cartel ally Raffaele Imperiale has revealed how he invested as much as €30 to €40 million in solid gold as he attempted to launder the massive amounts of money he made from selling drugs.

At one stage the former ‘King of the Narcos’, who is now a State witness in his native Italy where he was extradited after his dramatic arrest in Dubai last year was buying up to 40 kilos – an estimated €2 million worth a week.

"I invested in gold bars,” he has told prosecutors. “I got the bars from a company, a foundry located near Venice.

“For a period, in 2020, I bought gold at the Tarì (a gold foundry) which I took to Germany. Up to 40 kilos a week. I reinvested a total of €30/40 million in gold.”

Imperiale's arrest

Imperiale, who last month revealed how he was making €300,000 a MONTH from drug-dealing, told prosecutors his priority in recent years was to convert his ill-gotten gain into safe investments.

He explained how “moving the money is the key and cleaning up the drug money is the priority”.

Known in Italy as the “Van Gogh boss” after he had previously laundered money from drug trafficking by buying two Van Gogh paintings, he had become focused only on how to invest the millions made from the sale of drugs.

Having worked for so many years exclusively in the wholesale cocaine market, he was now planning to “regenerate and change activities, and focus in particular on cash flows”, according to a report in Italian media.

“It was 2016 and Imperiale was financially down. He recovered with a 300-kilo load of cocaine that he brought in wholesale. But then a new business appeared on the horizon,” one news reports states.

“I changed activities,” Imperiale told prosecutors.

“I found a strong contact, a money changer and started working on money flows. My project, if I hadn't been arrested, was to gradually leave drug trafficking and work only on money flows. The money changers are the key to international drug trafficking, which would not exist without them.”

However, having agreed to become a State witness in his home country, he explained how he now wants “to set an example for my children and my family".

He relates how, in 2016, he took a look at the accounts and “realised that I had squandered everything”.

“I rolled up my sleeves and started my business again, this time internationally. To start over, I contacted Rico Riquelme, currently detained in the Netherlands. I contacted him through cryptographic systems.

“He gave me the opportunity to reintroduce myself into the system by entrusting me with 300 kg of cocaine and telling me that I could pay for it when I could, even in six/twelve months.

“It was a substance bought in Spain at €25,000 per kg, so it was worth €7.5 million. And that I sold in the Neapolitan area for around €31,000 per kg, thus earning €9 million.

“I kept these relationships directly (with the most important clans), always with encrypted telephones.

Bounties have been placed on the heads of the Kinahans

“On European territory, today €2,500 are earned for each kg of cocaine, previously even €7,000 per kg. Ultimately, I received about €300,000 a month.”

The insight into the crime boss’s previous life are contained in evidence given to judges as part of what has been described as his “willingness to collaborate with justice”.

“I intend to undertake a process of collaboration with the judiciary, answering every question and reporting every element in my possession useful for the reconstruction of the facts of which I am being investigated,” Imperiale has declared.

"It is an opportunity to change my life, and I intend to exploit it, also to set an example for my children and my family.

“Despite my intention to collaborate with justice, I currently do not intend to resort to a protection program or to undertake a collaboration in the form of the law on collaborators of justice, at least in the state".

Imperiale then described his rise in the world of drug trafficking.

“Arrived in Dubai in 2010, I had €90/100 million in cocaine with Mario Cerrone, which was in Naples, on various sources, the proceeds of my business in Brazil.

This "work" from Brazil had been done without the knowledge of the Amato-Paganos, and I decided to sell that quantity in the Neapolitan territory, little by little, so as not to attract attention. At that time there were as leaders of the Amato-Paganos, first Mariano Riccio, then "aunt Rosaria" or Rosaria Pagano as the leaders had been arrested."

Imperiale was number two on Italy’s most wanted list when he was extradited from the UAE, where he attended Daniel Kinahan’s wedding in 2017.

He is now become State witness against the Camorra, the drug mafia he was a high-ranking member of for over two decades.

Court documents recently revealed that the cocaine kingpin blew through an astonishing €7 million as a fugitive in just three months.

He spent more than €3 million on “personal expenses” while on the run in Dubai.

After his extradition to Italy, Imperiale was arrested in his prison cell following a massive anti-mafia operation that led to the seizure of more than four tonnes of cocaine worth more than €800 million.

Imperiale later tried to claim his extradition from Dubai to Italy was a “kidnapping” and in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

But an Italian court said there was no grounds to bring a direct appeal to the Supreme Court.

It is believed his decision to become State Witness came shortly after he was arrested in his cell last October.

His co-operation and arrest is the latest blow to the Kinahan crime gang.

Despite a ‘super cartel’ crackdown in Dubai, the Irish drug bosses have continued to evade law enforcement.

They are the most senior members of the cartel to have not yet been arrested.

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