Investigators probing the ‘contaminated cocaine’ tragedy that led to the deaths of 24 people in Argentina last month have identified a gang linked to the sale of the poisonous drugs.
A federal prosecutor in Buenos Aires told the media this week that the focus on the probe had now switched to the ‘Mameluco’ gang linked to convicted drug-trafficker Miguel Ángel 'Mameluco' Villalba, who is serving 27 years in prison for various offences.
"There are indications that the drug that killed these 24 people is related to the 'Mameluco' people," federal prosecutor Paul Starc told the TN news channel on Wednesday.
Eight people, including drug kingpin Joaquín 'El Paisa' Aquino, were previously arrested earlier this month on suspicion of selling cocaine laced with a synthetic opiate 10,000 times more powerful than morphine in a shantytown on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. But analysis of the drugs seized when the detainees were arrested found that it was not cut with the opiate responsible for the deaths.
"What was determined yesterday [Tuesday] is that the drug seized from 'Paisa' has nothing to do with the one that killed the 24 people in [the] Puerta 8" shantytown, said Starc, who said "there are sufficient indications and evidence that it could have come from this [Villalba’s] gang."
The prosecutor’s comments came after police carried out a total of 38 raids on locations across Greater Buenos Aires, with at least 17 arrests confirmed by police. The operation was ordered by the Federal Court of San Martin, with most taking place in that district, as well as the Villa 18 shantytown.
In the raids, "a large quantity of drugs, thermosealing machines, material for wrapping the doses, a rifle, a machine gun, five pistols, cash, at least 25 mobile phones and some notebooks" were seized, Security Minister Aníbal Fernández said in a post on Twitter.
The prison cell where Villalba is being held, as well as his son’s, were also hit, with investigators believing the duo were both involved in the sale of the adulterated cocaine.
Buenos Aires Province Security Minister Sergio Berni told reporters that the ‘Mameluco’ gang "is related to the case of the poisoned drugs."
He also confirmed that he had ordered police authorities to intervene and take control of San Martín’s Police Station No. 5 because he had "serious suspicions" that some of its personnel were engaged in illegal activity with the gang, including the sale of drugs, either by “by action or omission."