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Bloomberg Businessweek (December 19, 2022)

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Год выпуска: December 19, 2022

Автор: Bloomberg Businessweek Europe

Жанр: Бизнес

Издательство: «Bloomberg Businessweek Europe»

Формат: PDF (журнал на английском языке)

Количество страниц: 64

Cocaine boats

How Balkan gangs infiltrated the world’s biggest shipping company and created a global trafficking network

In the summer of 2019, Claudio Bozzo, chief operating officer of MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co., flew 4,000 miles from Geneva to Washington, DC, for a meeting with US Customs and Border Protection. He’d been sent by MSC’s owner, a secretive 82-year-old billionaire named Gianluigi Aponte, to contain a crisis.
A few months earlier, more than too agents had boarded one of MSC’s ships, the Gayane, as it slid into the Port of Philadelphia for what was supposed to be a quick stop on its way to Rotterdam. Deep below deck, hidden in containers packed with wine and nuts, the agents discovered nearly 20 tons of cocaine, worth $1 billion. The ensuing investigation showed that more than a third of the crew-all MSC employees-had helped transfer vast amounts of cocaine from speedboats at night while the ship powered through the open ocean off South America. It was the largest maritime drug bust in American history.
The crime was so big and brazen that authorities made the exceptional decision to seize not just the cocaine but also the Gayane itself, a 1.000-foot-longship worth more than $100 million. During Bozzo’s meeting with the СВР in the limestone Ronald Reagan Building, he apologized for the ordeal and said the crew’s actions had come as a surprise, according to a person familiar with the events. He extolled MSC’s growth from humble beginnings into the world’s largest shipping company and impressed upon the officials how seriously the Aponte family takes the responsibility of running a fleet that account for nearly 20% of all seaborne container trade.
For US officials, the company’s claim of ignorance didn’t add up. Years before the Gayane was boarded, law enforcement authorities in multiple countries had been monitoring MSC’s vessels and crews, a Bloomberg Businessweek investigation found. US authorities had not only been tracking the Gayane long before it entered American waters, but they also had previously boarded and searched several other MSC ships as part of a broader investigation into an international cocaine trafficking ring that had burrowed into the shipping company. Using clues collected during those boardings, as well as intelligence gathered in Eastern Europe, they identified the powerful Balkan Cartel as the architect behind the massive shipments. Authorities in the US and Europe also concluded that the syndicate, which controls more than half of the cocaine flowing into Europe, had infiltrated MSC’s crews over a decade, exploiting its manpower and vessels to help build a cocaine smuggling empire.
“We certainly didn’t see MSC as a victim in all this," says William McSwain, former US attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, who presided over the Gayane case until he left the office in January 2021.
MSC and the US government are now locked in a legal battle that has taken place largely out of public view. Customs officials have been pressing the company to pay more than $700 million in penalties, according to multiple law enforcement sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the nonpublic administrative proceedings. Prosecutors in the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, meanwhile, are building a civil case arguing that MSC, as the operator of the Gayane, bears responsibility for the drug trafficking and must forfeit the vessel or a substantial portion of its value. While MSC concedes that record amounts of cocaine were found aboard its ship, it disputes key aspects of the government’s version of events and argues that it was the victim of traffickers, not a co-conspirator.

White Lines

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