In the southern Spanish province of Granada, a drug trafficker known as El Nata was working hard at becoming the next Pablo Escobar. He even created a replica of the Colombian drug lord’s famous Hacienda Nápoles in Santa Fe, a town in Granada that is home to fewer than 15,000 people. Just like Escobar, El Nata placed a real-sized light aircraft on top of the entrance to the property. But in emulating the notorious trafficker, El Nata also emulated his mistakes with the justice system: he has been accused of belonging to an international drug ring that exported marijuana to Polish traffickers.
The fortune allowed the drug traffickers to lead a life of luxury and excess – which was particularly evident in El Nata’s replica of Hacienda Nápoles
El Nata has been in prison since October 2019, but it is only now that Operation Vangelis – the Civil Guard investigation into his drug ring – has come to an end, culminating with the arrest of 75 gang members in Spain and Poland. With the money from selling and transporting marijuana, El Nata and his crew amassed up to €8 million in assets, property and cash. The fortune allowed the drug traffickers to lead a life of luxury and excess – which was particularly evident in El Nata’s replica of Hacienda Nápoles.
The plane was not the only striking element on the estate, located in the middle of an unpaved road on the outskirts of Santa Fe. Inside the villa, El Nata had also decorated the walls with photographs of drug traffickers wielding weapons and holding up large amounts of cash. It was one of the many surprises of the investigation, which was carried out in collaboration with the Polish police and coordinated by Europol.
Officers were also surprised by the flashy lifestyle and level of ostentation from the Polish members of the drug gang
The operation to bust the international drug ring began back in November 2017. El Nata was suspected of being in charge of the group’s activities in Spain. According to a press release issued last week by the Civil Guard, the 40-year-old was seen using Hacienda Nápoles to “show off his power in the network” in all surveillance efforts; while the estate “was used to close drug deals and throw celebrations.”
Officers were also surprised by the flashy lifestyle and level of ostentation from the Polish members of the drug gang, who would regularly travel Spain to check on their Spanish counterparts. On these visits, they ate at the best restaurants, stayed in luxury hotels and held wild parties. The officers were able to determine that each member was part of an “efficient network of high criminal ability.” Of the 75 arrested by the Civil Guard, each fulfilled a separate role: some were tasked with harvesting marijuana, others with packaging and transporting it, and a third group with moving the drug to Poland.
This life of luxury came to an end in October 2019, when the Civil Guard delivered its first of three blows that would end up dismantling the drug gang completely. Since then, 75 people have been arrested – including El Nata. In that time, officers also carried out 24 raids on different properties in Granada province, such as the house where El Nata lived with his wife and children and the replica of Hacienda Nápoles. In the latter raid, officers found two trucks to transport drugs, more than half a ton of marijuana packed and sealed in bags, 2,690 cannabis plants, €187,400 in cash and two guns.
Thanks to the large amount of information collected in these raids, officers were able to carry out the next phase of the investigation aimed at uncovering the group’s money-laundering operations. For Andalusia’s narcotics prosecutors, this is a crucial step to busting drug-trafficking rings in the south of Spain. Officers have been able to block several bank accounts with more than €370,000 and as a preventive measure have confiscated up to 36 assets and around 50 vehicles, listed under the names of the gang members as well as front men. According to the Organized Crime and Narcotics team (EDOA) from the Civil Guard in Granada, these assets and properties are worth more than €8 million.
The 75 gang members arrested in the operation are now facing charges ranging from belonging to a criminal organization and drug trafficking, to money laundering and arms possession. A court in Granada sent El Nata to prison for these crimes last October. El Nata may end up paying a very high price for wanting to be just like Pablo Escobar.